Workplace AI makes it all too easy to track you on the job

It helps with security and productivity, but it could also pose a serious privacy risk.

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Artificial intelligence can help you work and even help you find work, but it's now being used to monitor you at work... and that's not entirely a good thing. New Scientist notes that a London firm, StatusToday, recently joined a security accelerator run by the UK's GCHQ intelligence agency. The company's AI uses metadata from your workplace habits (such as the files you access and when you unlock doors) to spot unusual behavior as it happens. If you suddenly download a lot of data or venture into a part of the office you never frequent, the AI can alert the company and ask you what's going on.

For GCHQ, the use case would be obvious: it wants to prevent spies and whistleblowers from making off with valuable secrets. It would also be helpful at organizations of all kinds worried that ex-employees might take data on their way out. However, it also raises serious privacy concerns, especially since it can also be used to track productivity. Management could know if you visited a friend in another department, for instance, or accuse you of slacking off if you aren't following your usual work patterns.

This isn't automatically a problem. The main question is permission: do you agree to AI tracking? It's one thing if you know about monitoring when you apply for the job, but it's another if your employer decides to snoop without telling anyone. Companies also need to explain just what they're doing, so you aren't left worrying about the conditions that set off an AI alert. This kind of monitoring is potentially helpful, but there's plenty of potential for abuse.