Inside the grim world of office spyware

In the space of seven days this month, the chief executive of a global company worked more than 57 hours, or an average of eight hours a day.

He slept almost the same number of hours. Family and friends got 17 hours less of their time and spent three hours even less to relax and have fun.

I know all this because the general manager was Kamil Rudnicki, 34 years old, and he revealed it in a post on LinkedIn.

As he could. Rudnicki is the founder of TimeCamp, a company he established in his home country of Poland that sells what he calls time-tracking software and what the rest of us call spyware, bossware or workplace tattleware .

These Big Brotherish apps can monitor the websites that workers visit and the programs they use to count how much time is spent, for example, Twitter vs Excel – even if people work at home, as many more are thanks to Covid. Some apps can also log workers’ keystrokes and physical location, or take screenshots of their screen.

Rudnicki’s company made headlines around the world this month when a civil court in Canada ruled that an accountant owed her old employer more than C$2,700 (£1,630) after TimeCamp showed she had done “stealing time”.

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The accountant had logged just over 50 hours of work which his employer said did not appear to be spent on “job work”. She protested that she had spent a lot of time working on paper copies of client documents that had not been tainted by the TimeCamp software installed on her work laptop.

But her employers said that TimeCamp could show the time she had spent printing and her data revealed that she could not print the large stack of documents she would need to work on copies.

In addition, he should have uploaded the work he did offline in the company’s computer system, and TimeCamp did not show that he had done it yet.

It seemed like a clear win for spyware vs. humans, which made me wonder how TimeCamp felt about its role in this emerging era of worker surveillance.

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A bit mixed, is the impression I got from talking to Rudnicki about TimeCamp last week.

On the side, the Canadian accountant’s case had boosted business at his company, whose 50 employees serve about 4,000 clients in areas such as software, consulting and business-to-business professional services.

“For us, it’s good publicity,” he says, explaining that customer demo requests for TimeCamp’s software nearly doubled after the story broke. But the news had also amplified concern about the software, which Rudnicki insisted was not always being used in the sinister way widely imagined.

TimeCamp sometimes helps employees prove they worked unpaid overtime, he says. Also, most of their clients only used the software to monitor the work done on specific projects so they could show their clients how many hours the tasks had taken.

Other companies use it only to check whether a work computer was used or not, instead of logging every website visited, and some regions require that workers be informed before using the software.

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TimeCamp employees have the group software, which allowed Rudnicki to flourish a list detailing the thousands of productive hours his team had spent in Google Docs, Gmail and so on. And the fact that he was the second largest Twitter user of the company this month. “We don’t strive for 100 percent productivity,” he says. “It’s not healthy.”

It’s a relief. So is his confirmation that people have come up with tricks to fool time tracking software, like devices that shake a computer mouse to make it look like it’s in constant use. Or the low-tech trick of putting a cup of coffee on a keyboard to press a key constantly.

I found this news very happy. The idea of ​​being under constant digital surveillance is terrifying and I feel lucky to have dodged it until now. For those who don’t, I hope you can move elsewhere, or find a way to make the monitored life less onerous. And in the meantime, remember the cup.

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