Dozens of British firms use artificial intelligence to snoop on staff

Dozens of British firms are using artificial intelligence including email data harvesting to keep tabs on their staff

  • Tech firm Status Today has created Isaak system to monitor worker output
  • Dozens of UK firms use it to check workers’ emails and their inactivity
  • Critics say it will increase pressure and potentially damage staff mental health
  • But Status Today says system removes discrimination from the workplace 

Dozens of British firms are snooping on their own staff using artificial intelligence to monitor their emails.

Around 130,000 UK workers are under the scope of the Isaak system, which measures when files are accessed and edited, how often meetings are held and how frequently emails are sent and to whom.

It was designed by London-based company Status Today and is supposed to show bosses whether their employees are potential ‘influencers’, how their output ranks against their workplace behaviour and how well they work in a team.

Status Today said insurer Hiscox, IT firm Cisco, five UK law firms and London estate agents JBrown have all used its algorithm software to monitor workers.

Concerns have been raised over workplace snooping due to new artificial intelligence software being used by British firms to monitor productivity (file picture)

But critics, including trade unions, claim it will create an atmosphere of distrust.

It is the latest step in what has been labelled ‘the precision economy’, with experts predicting a raft of changes over the next 15 years which will see everything from life insurance premiums to job applications being decided on high-tech monitoring.

Ursula Huws, professor of labour and globalisation at the University of Hertfordshire, said it risked damaging the mental health of staff by causing them not to take breaks while ramping up the pressure on them.

She told The Guardian: ‘If performance targets are being fine-tuned by AI and your progress towards them being measured by AI, that will only multiply the pressure.

‘People are deemed not to be working if they take their hands off the keyboard for five minutes. But they could be thinking, and that doesn’t get measured. What is this doing for innovation, which needs creative workers?’

Workers also do not have an automatic right to see their own data, as it belongs to the employer.

The algorithm-based Isaak system monitors workers’ output by checking internet activity, file access and emails

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady added the Isaak system would ‘undermine morale’ and said it should only be rolled out where this a workplace agreement with employees.

Status Today said the system has gathered data on more than 1billion workplace actions which has helped identify the most talented staff and thus ‘improved the workplace environment’ by shifting workload accordingly.

Chief executive Ankur Modi admitted there was a risk the Isaak system could be ‘misused’ but added it could also show when staff are being overworked.

He told the Guardian: ‘If one salesperson is performing well and you can see overwork and another isn’t performing well and isn’t overworked, that could be enough to start a conversation.’

Mr Modi added the system would remove workplace discrimination around management decisions.

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