Digital monitoring and control in the workplace. From the expansion of operational data collection to algorithmic management? A study by Cracked Labs, September 2021

Original article in German, auto translated. Source: https://crackedlabs.org/daten-arbeitsplatz

Which data processing systems are used in companies today? What functions does the software available on the market offer? How do these technologies affect workers? To what extent do they change or strengthen the power imbalance between the company and employees? And where is the journey going?

Due to the rapid development of information and communication technologies, the collection of data about employees is becoming more and more part of everyday business life. Comprehensive digital logging of work activities quickly becomes permanent monitoring and control that deeply encroaches on the rights and freedoms of those affected. The opportunities and risks are unevenly distributed. While operational processes are being optimized, employees come under pressure – and under general suspicion. Companies use permanent data acquisition not only to sanction misconduct and to evaluate performance, but increasingly as a basis for partially or fully automated decisions that have a direct impact on the everyday work of employees. The systems used are often complex and non-transparent, the pace of development is high. Ten years ago, for example, it was difficult to predict how much the smartphone would change our everyday lives – including in the world of work.

The present study gives an overview on 150 pages of digital monitoring and control in the workplace and of the processing of personal data about employees in the company. It documents, systematizes and maps relevant technologies, systems and current developments with regard to their effects on employees – across industries and areas of activity, using many case studies and in a form that has so far been missing in the German-speaking area. The study is based on several years of work on the subject and is one of the results of the “Transparent Workforce” project, which was carried out by Cracked Labs in cooperation with the two Austrian unions GPA and PRO-GE and supported by the Work 4.0 digitization fund of the Vienna Chamber of Labor.

At the center of the investigation

The question was: What functions and technical possibilities does software offer that companies can use today, and how is data about employees processed? In some case studies, a deployment in Austria and Germany is legally difficult to imagine. But common systems such as Microsoft 365 or SAP also process data excessively today. Assessments of the data protection and labor law admissibility of the documented examples are largely excluded and could be the subject of a follow-up study. In addition to nine case studies on systems available on the market and two case studies on data practices at Amazon and Zalando, a map was developed that gives a systematic overview of operational data practices and systems. As part of the project, Hans Christian Voigt carried out a smaller study based on interviews with works council members. The result are five case studies on the specific use of data processing systems in Austrian companies.

The full version of the study is available as a PDF download ; a summary can be found below.

For more information see https://crackedlabs.org/daten-arbeitsplatz

Cracked Labs is a small, independent research institute and creative laboratory based in Vienna that deals with the interactions between information technology and society. The non-profit association was founded in 2012 as part of the development of the online game “Data Dealer” and in recent years has developed into a global competence center in areas such as surveillance, data protection, tracking, algorithms, platforms and the economy of personal data.

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