The Discerning Texan

All that is necessary for evil to triumph, is for good men to do nothing.
-- Edmund Burke
Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Are You Being "Watched"?

Glenn Reyolds has a post up today about oDesk and similar "productivity tools". It has an upside if you are like me a self-employed Small Business trying to find cheap labor that you do not know or trust (see their site here)--but its downside looks more like Orwell's "Big Brother" than anything I have ever heard about. This is from an article by Adam Stern:

... let's start with the positive. Hiring workers (mostly offshore) is hard. oDesk, on the surface, does a good job of handling the finding of a professional to handle a need. They do testing and verification which is a good thing.

So I started to look deeper. And this is where the slavery aspect begins. When we think of slaves of the last 1000 years, there are several things in common. The most common is the fact that the "masters" would watch them to make sure they worked. And if they didn't they got whipped or beaten or worse. Now while oDesk does not go that far, they certainly allow you to watch and monitor. So how do you watch?

The first way you can watch your worker is by monitoring his/her productivity on the keyboard and mouse. Don't check your Yahoo! mail or check the latest Paris Hilton pic or you will be penalized. So those who type faster or click faster, are more productive and thereby get a better rating. Same thing masters did to their slaves.

The next way you can watch is by actually making the worker post images every 10 minutes of themselves in front of their pc. I mean ARE YOU KIDDING ME. So if you happen to have a stomach ache suddenly hit you within 3 minutes of photo time, you best get a bed pan. And make sure you get your lipstick and blush on first. Same thing masters did to their slaves.

Odesk Image showing employee movements

From the oDesk site about watching:

Monitor Activity -- oDesk Team creates filmstrips of the provider’s online activity (screenshots and webcam shots). You can literally see what your team members are working on. Buyers use this visibility to spot check code, see when the provider is working, and see if the provider is getting stuck on any tasks.

Could you imagine any web shop in the U.S. recording the activities of their employees so closely? I would love to see (insert web shop) setting up this type of system. What about a large corporation. Let's see that happen. C'mon. I am quite sure that within a short period the employees would be gone. I have used several contractors over the years and about 15% of the time, it does not work out. But I have never even considered putting a web cam on them. One of my best friends does my design work. I could only imagine what it would be like if I (seriously) asked him to put a web cam and a click tracker on when he works on projects for me. I am sure I would no longer have a great designer or a friend.

In fact, oDesk has a video showing their office from behind the scenes. I don't see any web cams taking pictures of the employees. Carol and Maureen? Ron and Josh from operations? Does anyone monitor their activities? When those employees look at the camera and talk, is their keyboard/mouse productivity going down? Does the CEO, Gary Swart, send his web cam shots to the investors every 10 minutes? What about mouseclicks? I can just imagine the fun the oDesk team has looking at all these bits of info and images.

So why do I believe we allow this? It's simple... from the research I have done, the majority of workers on oDesk are from outside the U.S. and the majority of buyers are inside. So I assume the buyers feel it is ok. It is "ok" to take advantage of the Russians, the Indians, the others. All of the documentation is in English and Russian which makes me believe that there is a large percentage of Russian people on the site. Actually if you look in most categories, a Russian person shows up first for hours worked. Why are the Russians ok with this monitoring? Because my guess is that the money outweighs the monitoring. Furthermore, if you are paying someone $15/hr and assume they work 40-ish hours in a week, the maximum you would be out is $600. So for $600 you force someone to monitor their activities like a rat in a cage.

Imagine this tool in the hands of a bureaucracy like the STASI, especially one corrupted by political cronyism and hunger for power; for example consider the "internal security" department that Obama has lately advocated. Can you say "KGB"?

Orwell's "nightmare" may not be as far away as you think...
DiscerningTexan, 7/30/2008 02:10:00 PM |