No Privacy

For consumers, the privacy battleground reflects greasy corporate behaviour vs. the BIG/GAS theory -- Business Is Great/Government and Academics are Stupid.

          The presidential choice made for a tough election this year. But -- miracle of miracles -- at least we weren't treated to a duelling dirt campaign. For the most part, everyone seemed to respect both candidates' privacy. If only we could extend that same respect to ourselves.

          For consumers, the privacy battleground reflects greasy corporate behaviour vs. the BIG/GAS theory -- Business Is Great/Government and Academics are Stupid.

          The heavily promoted and highly popular BIG/GAS theory says government regulation is always bad and industry can regulate itself, despite more than a century's evidence to the contrary. Greasy corporate behaviour includes the stalking technology that surreptitiously follows you around the web.

          For example, as Ed Foster recently reported, Amazon.com's privacy policy allows for the collection of data now so that it can be used later according to whatever privacy policy Amazon happens to publish in the future. Even more dismaying is the use of the BIG/GAS theory to promote self-regulation as a solution, despite ample evidence of business shortsightedness, stupidity, and greasiness.

          For employees, the privacy battleground is nebulous, which may be why employees seem to be giving up without a fight. The Society of Financial Service Professionals polled managers and employees on the subject and found that two-thirds of all companies monitor their employees, and most employees don't seem to mind. Only two out of five employees considered even video surveillance a breach of ethics.

          Once the automated monitoring of e-mails and web usage becomes acceptable employer behaviour, we will accept the principle of automated surveillance for detecting violations of all company policies and procedures.

          Consider the future: Computers with built-in cameras and software will surreptitiously watch employees at their desks. Telephones will include software to record all office conversations. And why not? It's the company's computer and telephone, not the employee's.

          The source of employer indifference toward privacy rights is fuzzy, but as my upcoming book, Lewis' Laws, points out, modern business theories dehumanise the workforce, so the theories are a likely culprit.

          The process theory, for example, views each employee as a step in the process, and seeks to move intelligence from employees to the process. Similarly, the knowledge theory treats companies as repositories for collections of knowledge and seeks to move intelligence from employees to knowledge management systems.

          With employees viewed as replaceable bags o' skills and knowledge, is it any wonder companies see no ethical problem in monitoring employees' behaviour, "hoteling" them in shared work spaces, and otherwise failing to acknowledge the natural need for privacy?

          Why employees aren't outraged is a mystery to me. But don't mistake employee docility for evidence that surveillance is a good idea.

          The untheoretical reality is that companies succeed and fail more due to the quality and motivation of their workforce than any other factor. Employee antiprivacy policies now prevalent in the workplace communicate a lack of trust that is as unmotivating as any message an employer can send.

          Send Bob an (unmonitored?) email to ISSurvivor@cs.com. Bob Lewis is a Minneapolis-based consultant with Perot Systems.

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