When talking to prospective customers about seeo, one of the objections we encounter is that it feels is bit ‘Big Brotherish’: it somehow impinges on employee privacy, is seen as corrosive to a trust-based corporate culture, and worse still, is ethically dubious.

The idea that Artificial Intelligence-driven solutions are ‘Big Brother’ can come from a feeling that there is an absolute right to privacy within the workplace.

 An expectation of privacy 

It is our view that different workspaces carry different expectations of privacy. For example, putting a security camera in a toilet or bathroom would be inappropriate, while monitoring a factory floor for machinery malfunction would be a valid use case. It is important to delineate types of spaces, and to treat them differently.

We would regard deployment of seeo in an area where employees would reasonably expect to have privacy, e.g. a smoko room, as an egregious abuse of privacy. We do not offer any solutions in these contexts, and will not develop them in the future. Furthermore, seeo only identifies categories (e.g. person, forklift, truck), not individuals. So while we regularly receive requests to track employee break times (i.e., is Bob taking longer than 30 minutes for lunch?), we regard these types of applications as a breach of a reasonable expectation of privacy and an unwarranted intrusion into the employment relationship, and decline to be involved.

Our focus in this paper is on the implications of deploying AI-based tracking solutions in contexts where employees do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

 The nature of businesses and the employment relationship

Each business has its own culture and practices: ‘the way we do things around here’. Managers live in a world of ‘work as imagined’, in which they create strategies, processes, procedures, and ways of working that they believe best achieve the profit objective. Employees, as a general rule, live in a world of ‘work as done’. They implement the strategies, procedures & processes — often in quite a different way than how the work was imagined!

All employees of an organisation, regardless of seniority, serve at ‘her Majesty’s pleasure’. They either live within the bounds established by the organisation, or they choose to no longer belong to that organisation. In return for monetary compensation, employees are required to comply with behavioural norms, ways of working, processes, and procedures, and to meet KPIs.

Directors & CEOs, in some cases, are personally responsible for the success and liable for the failure of company processes & procedures, particularly in relation to health & safety.

Whether we like it or not, process compliance is a fact of life, and there are very few places within our workplaces where we can have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

 Proactive vs Reactive

The vast majority of organisations use high-definition CCTV recording of key process areas to ensure process compliance, prevent theft, deliver a sense of safety, track orders, monitor machinery operation, and so on. However, our organisational lives are too complex for us to be able to keep a track of everything that is going on. This necessarily means we are reacting to events as they occur versus taking a proactive view on events.

seeo simply provides the intelligence needed to shift from a reactive to a proactive stance. It is our view that it is not ‘Big Brother’ to deliver an easy, automatic way to access events of interest that have already been recorded. These events are simply hidden in plain sight until seeo uncovers them. Neither is it an intrusion into personal privacy, as long as it does not occur in an area where privacy is a reasonable expectation.

How do you know that work is done as you imagine?

Organisations go to great lengths to design work practices and processes to ensure profit is maximised or known risks are mitigated. They usually have four ways of ensuring those processes are adhered to:

  • Planned or random audit — People stand there with a clip board and watch the tasks being completed. Most people behave when they are being watched so an audit is no guarantee that compliance occurs when the auditor is no longer present
  • Supervisors watch — Organisations hire Managers to watch & ensure compliance. This feels very Big Brother in and of itself!
  • CCTV recording areas of interest – Reviewing footage in the hope of uncovering a non-compliance event of interest
  • Self-reporting — People either witness an event or the person involved in the event, notifies someone

The quote “you manage what you measure” comes into focus with regard to organisational processes. Is it ‘Big Brother’ to ensure processes that are designed to maximise profitability while keeping people safe are followed in practice? If organisations don’t measure, how will they know what needs to be improved?

Solutions like seeo replace manual processes like auditing and incident reporting. They save the time it takes to proactively find events in camera footage. Furthermore, they automate the collection of performance data so improvements can be visualised across time.

Institutional blindness

People within organisations can often lack the visibility of their operations & employee behaviour. They become unintentionally blind to the ‘way things are done around here’. They imagine that they can set a policy and compliance will follow. Employees often do not even think to question how a task is completed because it ‘just is’.

Solutions like seeo enable people to see with new eyes. It helps them visualise tasks in new and different ways. seeo assists with spatial and situational awareness, that is not possible from the ground or when viewing across multiple cameras. Hazards and improvement opportunities are often hidden in plain sight.

seeo helps organisations overcome institutional blindness.

In order to do this, seeo needs eyes on the scene — eyes that are no different to a human observer, standing with a clipboard, watching with interest. This feels like less ‘Big Brother’, rather than good practice.

 What about trust?

We have had people object to seeo, saying “we have a high-trust environment, and this will undermine it”. These people refer to the success of their self-reporting regimes as reason enough to not deploy something like seeo. However, they also have CCTV cameras deployed in key parts of their operations.

When officers of a company are liable for process failures and people end up hurt, it is not enough to hide behind ‘high-trust’ environments. It is incumbent upon every person to ensure processes are followed, or changed when they don’t work. It is not a violation of trust to be aware of the success or otherwise of processes, especially those that are designed to keep people safe from harm.

 High-trust environments require high-quality performance feedback. Solutions like seeo create feedback opportunities on a daily basis because they uncover causes for feedback. They add to high-trust environments, rather than detracting from them.

Conclusion

It is our view that there are no ethical concerns with deploying AI-driven solutions such as seeo in environments where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.

The benefits of seeo are many:

  • Low-cost ability to find evidence of events hidden in plain sight
  • 24/7 audit of how things are done in order to line up work as imagined versus work as done
  • 24/7 gathering of performance data that can underpin performance and improvement conversations
  • See with different eyes through spatial & situational awareness
  • Empower individuals to keep themselves free from harm by highlighting behaviour that they might not be aware of

To find out how seeo.ai can assist you with knowing what is going on, mitigating health & safety risks, and shifting to a more proactive stance,  Get in Touch

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