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Biometric tracking in the enterprise: what is it, who is using office wearables and what are the concerns?

Scott Carey | Feb. 15, 2017
Tracking employees via biometric badges is a growing trend in the enterprise

In the UK, Citizens Advice states: "Your employer can legally monitor your use of the phone, internet, e-mail or fax in the workplace if: the monitoring relates to the business; the equipment being monitored is provided partly or wholly for work; and your employer has made all reasonable efforts to inform you that your communications will be monitored."

However, "some employers monitor their workers without informing them that this is happening, for example, by use of hidden cameras or audio devices. This is very rarely legal."

Humanyze CEO Waber said that regulators will need to catch up as these new data streams enter the workplace. "You need government regulation on this to ensure that people opt in for this stuff.

"US privacy law in the workplace is thirty years old and we need to have strong privacy protections to make it easier for the industry to grow. For example, HIPPA regulations, people understand the protections, they are confident that they are protected and I think we need something similar to that for workday privacy. Making sure that regulation starts to catch up will take time."

For example, when an organisation contracts Humanyze they will come into the office to brief staff on how the system works and what is, and isn't, recorded. Everyone signs a disclaimer and there is no obligation to take part.

When asked if not taking part could be damaging from a career perspective Waber didn't miss a beat. "If you tried to force people you would have a negative impact on the workforce that counteracts any positive effect the tech has," he said.

Employees that don't want to participate can wear a "fake" badge, however he says that generally Humanyze gets 90 percent participation, "so we are generally quite good at communicating the value of this and make sure we do it the right way," he said.

Enterprise customers

Unfortunately these concerns, paired with sensationalist headlines, means that employers are reticent to discuss these projects with the press. Computerworld UK couldn't get an enterprise customer to discuss biometric tracking and Humanyze won't name any of its customers.

One of the few published enterprise case studies involved BP trialling Fitbits with its North American employees to encourage a healthier lifestyle back in 2014. It reported such impressive results as an 8.6 percent decline in health risks, and a reduction in overall healthcare spend of 3.5 percent. Fitbit even offers its own Group Health programme in three tiers for corporate clients like Diageo, Autodesk and Box.

Biometrics being used as part of corporate wellness programmes will only become more prevalent. ABI Research predicts that by 2020 there will be 44 million workplace wearable devices integrated into wellness programmes.


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