Employees at Big Tech call centres are under pressure to accept home monitoring

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Image Courtesy: Techopedia

An NBC News investigation discovered that Colombia-based contact centre workers who offer outsourced customer support to some of the country’s top firms are being forced to sign a contract that allows their employer to place cameras in their homes to monitor work performance.

Six Teleperformance employees in Colombia, one of the world’s top call centre firms with clients like Apple, Amazon, and Uber, expressed worry about the new contract, which was issued in March. The deal provides for the surveillance of workers’ residences via AI-powered cameras, speech analytics, and the storage of data acquired from workers’ family members, including minors. Teleperformance employs about 380,000 people worldwide, including 39,000 in Colombia.

“The contract permits continual monitoring of what we are doing, but also of our family,” said a Bogota-based Apple account worker who was not permitted to speak to the media. “I believe it’s terrible. We don’t have an office. I do my job in my bedroom. “I don’t want a camera in my bedroom.”

The employee claimed she signed the contract, a copy of which NBC News obtained, because she was afraid of losing her job. She said that her supervisor informed her that if she refused to sign the paper, she would be removed from the Apple account. She stated that the extra surveillance technology had yet to be deployed.

The workers’ concerns, which they all expressed under the condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to the media, highlight a pandemic-related trend that has alarmed privacy and labour experts: as many workers have shifted to performing their duties at home, some companies are pushing for increased levels of digital monitoring of their employees in an effort to recreate the oversight of the office at home.

The problem is not limited to Teleperformance employees in Colombia. According to the company’s website, it provides comparable monitoring through its TP Cloud Campus product, which it employs to enable employees to work remotely in more than 19 regions. In a January 2021 official Teleperformance promotional film for TP Cloud Campus, it outlines how it utilises “AI to manage clean desk policies and fraud” among its remote workers by analysing camera feeds. In its most recent financial report, issued in June, Teleperformance stated that the TP Cloud Campus solution had enabled 240,000 of its approximately 380,000 workers to work from home.

Workers at Teleperformance in Albania, including those working on the Apple U.K., will be laid off by the end of 2020. account, lodged a complaint with the country’s Information and Data Protection Commissioner about the company’s intention to install video surveillance in their homes. The commissioner eventually decided that Teleperformance could not monitor Albanian workers in their homes using webcams.

According to him, the contract asks authorization for a wide variety of conceivable scenarios in order to ensure Teleperformance complies with data privacy regulations as it continues to create solutions to maximise long-term work from home for workers and clients. He added that Teleperformance has just been certified as a Great Place to Work in Colombia for the fourth consecutive year, a third-party certification based on confidential surveys of thousands of employees, which he said “validated that the vast majority of our employees in Colombia view us favourably as a fair, caring, and trustworthy employer, despite the challenging times we are all living in.”

However, it does not appear that this pressure is coming directly from firms such as Apple. According to Apple spokesperson Nick Leahy, the business “prohibits the use of video or photographic monitoring by our suppliers, and we have established Teleperformance does not employ video monitoring for any of its teams working with Apple.” According to Leahy, Apple examined Teleperformance in Colombia this year and found no “fundamental breaches of our rigorous criteria.”

Work from Home

During the pandemic, Teleperformance, like many other businesses, relocated the bulk of its staff worldwide to work from home. Initially, the company faced international scrutiny from labour unions after photos of some of its employees in the Philippines — the country with the highest number of Teleperformance workers — sleeping at work so they could be in the office to respond to Amazon Ring customers in U.S. time zones were leaked to news outlets. At the time, some employees expressed dissatisfaction with the office environment and expressed a desire for the ease and security of working from home. There is no evidence that Colombian employees slept at the workplace.

However, according to employees, the convenience and safety appear to have come with a privacy-invading price. Workers stated that in March, members of Teleperformance’s worldwide workforce, including 95 percent of its 39,000 Colombian employees working remotely, were issued an eight-page addition to their current employment contracts requesting that they consent to new home surveillance regulations. Workers said that management informed them that clients had requested the increased surveillance to boost security and avoid data breaches while they were working from home due to the pandemic.

Workers are asked to agree to having video cameras installed in their homes or on their laptops, pointed at their workstation, to record and watch them in real time. It further adds that employees consent to Teleperformance utilising AI-powered video analysis technologies that can identify objects in the workplace, such as mobile phones, paper, and other materials banned by Teleperformance’s security standards. They must also agree to provide data and photographs of any youngsters under the age of 18 who might be picked up by video and audio monitoring equipment, as well as biometric data such as fingerprints and photos. There is also a provision that forces employees to submit to polygraph testing if requested.

Raising Concerns

The idea of the contract’s degree of surveillance at home, where calls are already extensively monitored by software, frightened some Teleperformance customer support workers. One Amazon employee performs night shifts from Colombia in order to assist clients in Spain. The bedroom she occupies with her spouse is the only place in her residence that is quiet enough to accept client calls. While he sleeps on the bed, she receives calls from a desk. She is concerned that the mics may pick up the sound of him sleeping, according to NBC News.

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