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Digital surveillance in the workplace

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Digital surveillance in the workplace” functions as an edge phenomenon between the “digital economy” and “data protection” nodes. The link between digital economies, data protection and surveillance in the workplace lies in the central role of data.

An economy that is primarily based on digital products and services is referred to as a digital economy (Teebken & Hess, 2022). As digital technologies continue to enter the economy and society, we are experiencing an unprecedented collection, storage and processing of data (Acquisti et al., 2015; Bélanger & Xu, 2015). Technologies such as artificial intelligence, web tracking or blockchain are representative of this development and expand the understanding of how data can influence the decision-making behaviour of companies and users, sometimes even across the boundaries of the physical and digital worlds (Hess et al., 2022). A particular focus within the digital economies is on the so-called data economies, which emphasise the transformative power of collecting, integrating and analysing large amounts of data (Teebken & Hess, 2022).

In the workplace context, the use of advanced technologies for data processing and analysis enables increased productivity and operational efficiency (Gierlich-Joas et al., 2022). For example, employee data can provide insights into work habits and performance, which in turn can be used to optimise work processes, personnel management and ultimately increase business efficiency (Zieglmeier et al., 2022). On the other hand, comprehensive data collection leads to increased employee transparency (Gierlich-Joas et al., 2022). The generation of employees’ personal data creates opportunities to closely monitor the actions of individuals (Clarke, 1988, 2019; Connolly & McParland, 2012). Employers may have legitimate reasons to monitor employee actions, for example to ensure that employees are completing their work (Nord et al., 2006). At the same time, increasing employee transparency leads to various privacy concerns, for example regarding the secondary use of implicitly collected data (Teebken et al., 2023). In particular, the mixing of private and professional life through the disclosure of employee data is considered problematic both in research and in practice (Teebken, 2021; Teebken & Hess, 2021). The issue of data protection is becoming increasingly important in the increasingly digitalised world of work.

Digital work requires a careful balance between increasing efficiency and protecting the privacy of employees. The challenge is to develop business strategies that both fully utilise the potential of digital technologies and respect and protect the data protection rights of employees. This requires a careful balance between the benefits of employee data for organisations and the privacy of employees.

Comparability with analogue phenomena

Digital surveillance in the workplace is in some ways comparable to the monitoring and performance measurement of employees in the past. In analogue times, this was based on direct observation and manual data collection. The difference in the digital world, however, lies in the comprehensive, often invisible and automated data collection. Digital tools and associated enablers enable continuous monitoring that goes far beyond what was possible in the analogue world.

Enabler:

  1. Automation: Enables the continuous collection of employee data without human intervention.
  2. Networking and data integration: Facilitates accessing and analysing employee data across different systems.
  3. High speed (of processes): Real-time data analysis enables immediate insights into employee behaviour and performance.
  4. Generation and processing of large amounts of data: Enhanced data processing capabilities allow handling and analysing large amounts of data, which would be unthinkable in the analogue world.

Social relevance

Digital surveillance in the workplace is of great social relevance, as it has a significant impact on the world of work and influences the relationship between employers and employees. Finding the right balance between data protection and digital efficiency is crucial for a fair and future-orientated working environment. This influences not only the individual privacy of employees, but also the social perception of data protection and digital rights.

Further links and literature

Recommended reading:

  • Agarwal, N., & Steinmetz, R. (2019). Sharing economy: A systematic literature review. International Journal of Innovation and Technology Management, 16(06), 1930002.
  • Chang, H. H., & Sokol, D. D. (2020). How incumbents respond to competition from innovative disruptors in the sharing economy-The impact of Airbnb on hotel performance. Strategic Management Journal, 1-22.

Sources

  1. Acquisti, A., Brandimarte, L., & Loewenstein, G. (2015). Privacy and human behavior in the age of information. Science, 347(6221), 509-514.
  2. Bélanger, F., & Xu, H. (2015). The role of information systems research in shaping the future of information privacy. Information Systems Journal, 25(6), 573-578.