Colombian call center employees forced to accept home surveillance

In a shocking story that made news headlines in the US, Colombian call center workers are being forced into accepting home surveillance during work hours.

The incident betrays an emerging, post-pandemic paradigm of privacy violation and intrusion into the lives of the public. 

 

Who are Teleperformance?

The Colombian call center workers in question are employees of Teleperformance – a company that provides third-party customer service to some of the largest companies in the South American country. The corporation has at least 380,000 workers worldwide and almost 40,000 in Colombia.

According to the company's website, TP Cloud Campus – the remote working software that the company uses to monitor employees via camera feeds – is being used in 19 markets across the globe. The software package includes AI monitoring technology used, Teleperformance claim, to prevent fraud and enforce a clean desk policy. Teleperformance proudly states that 250,000 employees work from home using TP Cloud Campus software. 

Although this is concerning in and of itself, recent events have finally culminated in employees speaking to the media. 

What were the employees asked to sign up for?

According to US news network NBC, 95% of the employees in Colombia, as well as thousands of members of their workforce that are employed in other countries, were sent an addendum to their existing contracts that required them to consent to surveillance devices being installed in their homes to observe whether they're doing their jobs or not. The contracts, which were first issued in March, led several employees to sound the alarm. NBC reported this week that:

The document asks workers to agree to having video cameras installed in their home or on their computers, pointing at their workspace, to record and monitor workers in real-time. It also states that workers agree to Teleperformance using AI-powered video analysis tools that can identify objects around the workspace, including mobile phones, paper, and other items that are restricted by Teleperformance's security policies.

There were also demands that workers agree to take polygraph tests if asked and that they share biometric data such as fingerprints. They must also agree to the fact that their children might be recorded by the remote working software. 

An article published several months ago by the Guardian – spurred on by 10,000 Teleperformance employees in the UK being notified of the introduction of cameras in their homes – explains that "if the system detects no keyboard stroke and mouse click, it will show you as idle for that particular duration, and it will be reported to your supervisor. So please avoid hampering your productivity".

What have the employees said?

Employees are speaking out against the company-sanctioned violation of their privacy. One worker, who was working on accounts for Apple and wished to remain anonymous, said of the home surveillance stipulations:

The contract allows constant monitoring of what we are doing, but also our family... I think it's really bad. We don't work in an office. I work in my bedroom. I don't want to have a camera in my bedroom.

The same employee, NBC reports, says she was told by Teleperformance that she would be removed from the Apple account if she refused to consent to home surveillance being installed in her house. Another Teleperformance employee working on an Amazon account who experienced monitoring whilst completing her training said:

It's a violation of my privacy rights and the rights of my husband and mother-in-law who live with me.

Teleperformance employees in Albania, on the other hand, actually complained to their government when the plans were proposed for staff in the country towards the tail end of 2020. The government ruled that webcams weren't allowed to be utilized for home monitoring. However, there is at least one case of an employee that spoke out against the plans being sacked afterward. 

Something doesn't add up

Teleperformance justified the change in contract by stating that Teleperformance clients demanded extra security to prevent issues like data breaches from occurring. However, Apple, one of their clients, has said that they don't allow their suppliers to monitor employees. That being said, Apple has reportedly audited Teleperformance and found no issues relating to its central standards.

Uber, on the other hand, said it did request some employee monitoring to ensure staff wasn't recording sensitive customer data - but beyond that, no more was needed. A spokesperson for Amazon, another company that uses Teleperformance as a customer service solution, said they have never requested staff be monitored in this way. 

Written by: Aaron Drapkin

After graduating with a philosophy degree from the University of Bristol in 2018, Aaron became a researcher at news digest magazine The Week following a year as editor of satirical website The Whip. Freelancing alongside these roles, his work has appeared in publications such as Vice, Metro, Tablet and New Internationalist, as well as The Week's online edition.

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