Posts tagged with "Privacy"

Industry’s newest productivity tool: An uncomfortable toilet seat (no joke!)

December 25, 2019

We are not alone-and it has nothing to do with UFOs. While businesses already are monitoring employee emails, Slack messages, and keystrokes in order to increase productivity at the office, the last bastion of worker privacy is about to disappear, according to a report by The Huffington Post.

Gone are the days when a single-occupancy toilet stall was, perhaps, the only place where an employee could find solace in solo in a high-pressure workplace.

No—there won’t be video cameras in the loo, but a British company named StandardToilettoilet has applied for a patent on a toilet that discourages long bathroom breaks. The company has filed a patent for a fixture designed to increase employee productivity by making it uncomfortable for anyone to dwell on the toilet seat.

In its own defense, on its website, StandardToilet explains, “It is estimated that in the United Kingdom alone, extended employee breaks costs industry and commerce an estimated £4 billion (US$5.2 billion) per annum. Moreover, medical studies have suggested that using the traditional WC can contribute to swollen hemorrhoids and the weakening of pelvic muscles.”

The company adds two more pressing reasons for introducing discomfort and  a quicker departure into the restroom experience: “In modern times , the workplace toilet has become private texting and social media usage space. [And] in commercial shopping malls and train stations, a requirement to reduce queuing has become a necessity.”

Indeed, StandardToilet rationalizes, it is offering a “unique opportunity to improve employee heath and well-being with business efficiency through reductions in social media usage.”

While current toilet seats provide a reasonably comfortable horizontal seating surface, the newly designed seat slopes forward at an angle of 13 degrees, HuffPost reports.

The new product is designed to make it uncomfortable to spend longer than about five minutes on it without experiencing leg strain, Mahabir Gill, founder of StandardToilet, told Wired UK in an article published Monday.

“Thirteen degrees is not too inconvenient, but you’d soon want to get off the seat quite quickly,” Gil told the magazine. The magazine reported that Gil is in talks with several local councils and service stations to use his product.

However, there are naysayers: Jennifer Kaufmann-Buhler, assistant professor of Design History at Purdue University in Indiana, told the HuffPost that the toilet makes assumptions about the kind of person who will be using it. “It kind of imagines that the process of urinating and defecating are these mechanical aspects of our bodies that always operate the way that they are supposed to. That we all have bowels that move efficiently, that we all pee at the same level, Kaufmann-Buhler said. “Bodies aren’t standard.”

In an email, StandardToilet explained to HuffPost that the product is not designed to replace toilets for people with disabilities.

Assuming that the product was in compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act and other countries’ regulations for accessibility, there could still be issues if this toilet were to go mainstream, a workplace disability expert told the news outlet. Nadine Vogel is the CEO of Springboard Consulting, a business that works with companies on how to serve workers with disabilities. “Is it necessarily useable for all by a universal design point?” Vogel said is the question StandardToilet should be asking themselves to be more inclusive to employees with disabilities. “What is accessible is not always useable,” Vogel said.

Vogel outlined scenarios of workers who may or may not have a documented disability but need longer bathroom breaks. It could be a diabetic worker who needs to take a glucose test while sitting comfortably on a toilet seat, she said. Or it could be someone needing that break for their mental health. “The fact that the concern is extended employee breaks―well, what about people that have some kind of mental health situation that actually need that kind of longer break?” Vogel asked.

Harvey Molotch, a professor of Sociology at New York University and co-editor of “Toilet: Public Restrooms and the Politics of Sharing,” told HuffPost that his immediate reaction to the patent was that it was a “spoof.”

In general, Molotch said this toilet monitoring is part of the history of “anxiety that people are ‘misusing’ toilet facilities for things not intended and, indeed, doing things that are sinful: drugs, sex, loafing.”

Kaufmann-Buhler said this product assumes how an employee’s time should be managed. “I do think it’s a very capitalist mentality that people’s physical bodies and its problems and limitations are inconveniences to modern capitalism that want you to be productive whatever the cost,” Kaufmann-Buhler said.

Employees already feel pressure to take shorter bathroom breaks. Seventy-four percent of Amazon warehouse workers avoid using the toilet out of fear of being warned about missing their target numbers, according to a survey of more than 100 employees by worker rights platform Organise.

Office design can add another physical layer to this pressure to be an efficient worker. Since direct surveillance would be “indecent invasion of the most private of our acts,” employers control workers’ toilet habits through equipment, Molotch said. “Instead of a real cop, the cop is built into the machinery itself,” he added.

Research contact: @HuffPost

The face is familiar … and a new app will help you remember the name

January 8, 2019

It has happened to all of us. We run into somebody we know, but can’t match a name to the face.

Embarrassing? Yes. But now there’s a way to finesse the situation, thanks to the creators of SocialRecall, an app that uses smartphone cameras and facial recognition software to scan the features of your acquaintances—or even strangers at an event— and tell you their names.

“It breaks down these social barriers we all have in terms of initiating the protocol to meet somebody,” neuroscientist Barry Sandrew told Scientific American for its latest issue. Sandrew’s start-up, also called SocialRecall, created the app,  and tested it at an event attended by about 1,000 people.

There are two versions of the app, the magazine reports: In one version, a user upload selfies that SocialRecall then uses to identify the person for other app users within the bounds of a specific geographic area, such as an event venue. Another version is designed for users with prosopagnosia, better known as face blindness. That version enables a user to tag images of his or her own friends so that the app can remind them of their names on the fly.

Privacy concerns? SocialRecall says it deletes obsolete user data on the event version of the app, and that data for the other version is only stored on a user’s phone.

But, Scientific American notes, privacy experts remain concerned that the app represents a widespread rollout of technology that could have profound implications for the future of public spaces— and that it’s difficult to adequately inform users about the long-term risks of a technology that’s still so new.

“The cost to everyone whom you are surveilling with this app is very, very high,” New York University law professor Jason Schultz told Scientific American, “and I don’t think it respects the consent politics involved with capturing people’s images.”

Research contact: info@socialrecallapp.com

Ceding privacy for a paycheck: 78% of companies monitor employees

April 18,2018

Whether you are on the phone or computer, or in the supply closet, at work, chances are that you are being watched or recorded—or both, based on a report this week by ABCNews.Go.

According to new data from an annual workplace survey conducted by the American Management Association, nearly 80% of major companies now monitor employees’ use of e-mail, Internet or phone.

That figure represents a substantial uptick from 1997, when just 35% of businesses kept tabs on their workers—although employees have the same access now to email and the Internet that they had 20 years ago.

The AMA study was conducted among 1,627 large and mid-sized firms that are its members and clients—and  which, cumulatively, employ over 25%r of the U.S. workforce.

The survey also found that companies have increased monitoring across the board within the past couple of decades. Sixty-three percent now watch Internet usage and 47% review e-mails—a significant increase from 54% and 38%, respectively, in 1997.

In addition, more companies today are blocking social media and other sites that they deem inappropriate, in an effort to control employee “offenses”—and fully 25% say that they have fired employees for misuse of business email or the Internet.

“It’s not just a matter of corporate curiosity, but very real worries about productivity and liability that push these policies,” Eric Rolfe Greenberg, director of Management Studies for the AMA, told ABC.

“Personal e-mail can clog a company’s telecommunications system, and sexually explicit or other inappropriate material downloaded from the Internet can lead to claims of a hostile work environment,” he added.

Typically, the larger the company, the more incentive it has to check up on its employees, the survey found.

The financial sector — banks, brokerages, insurance and real estate — was the most vigilant, reporting that 92.1% of firms participate in some form of surveillance.

More than three-quarters of those who work in wholesale and retail, manufacturing, business and professional services and other non-profit organizations also were subjected to surveillance.

Finally, the AMA said that most companies tend to carry out spot checks rather than monitor workers constantly. However, that’s little comfort to employees, for whom the right to privacy has been ceded in exchange for a paycheck.

Research contact: customerservice@amanet.org