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Give To Get: Sensing, Tracking And Your Privacy

February 11, 2019

226 viewsFeb 10, 2019, 06:00pm
By Tracy Brower: I write about the changing nature of work, workers and the workplace.

What are you willing to give up when it comes to your privacy? In the end, it depends on what you get in return—the give to get equation. Technology can track us anywhere. As it gains momentum, and as we increasingly choose to be tracked, we also give up some privacy. But, what do we gain?

Your Fitbit knows your steps, your water intake and your weight. MapMyWalk knows your whereabouts and your level of workout discipline. Your ride sharing app knows the route you took, what time you traveled, and how much you paid. Facebook knows your friends, your sentiments, and so much more. If you use these apps, you believe that you get something in return that is worth the personal information you share—better health, convenient transportation or connections with a community of friends.

It’s Only The Beginning

These are only the beginning, of course. New contact lenses for diabetics sense glucose levels. A dress outfitted with sensors tracks how often women were touched at a nightclub. There is even a diaper that senses when a baby needs a change. In addition, China is beginning use of a social credit system in order to assess economic and social reputation.

Employee Monitoring

Increasingly, our employers know a lot about us as well. Sensing systems track handwashing compliance in medical workers. In an effort to curtail theft, TSA established a surveillance system for its employees. Unfortunately, it met with unintended consequences in which employees felt devalued and did everything they could to stay out of the cameras’ view.

Consequences of these capabilities and systems – both intended and unintended – result in promise and peril. Growth in sensing technology will have far-reaching implications for our social norms and systems. Data gathering is not inherently negative, it’s a matter of how transparent companies are in gathering data and the choices they make about how the data is used.
Some companies provide discounts on health insurance in exchange for the use of a health app into which employees enter their most personal health information. Companies track worker locations through badging data and talent information based on performance management systems.

None of this is bad, necessarily, but what do employees receive in return? The risk is that the answer to that question is “not much”. The pendulum can swing toward the value of data for the company—where organizations are getting a lot of data—without much of a give-back to employees. But there is an opportunity to equal the playing field for employees—ensuring employees receive a message they are trusted and that tracking delivers value for them as much as for the company.

Give To Get

What if the data that is collected via your email or badge tracking could come back in a way that helps you work more effectively? What if the data you enter into the talent management system could help you curate your career, enhance your job fit, or match you with a mentor? What if the data you enter into the company health program could help you maintain fitness and reduce stress?

“Give to get” is the balancing of what the company receives in terms of the data it collects and the value it returns to employees. The best companies are those which do both—extract data that helps them achieve organizational results and provides value to employees as well.

Constructive Cultures

For organizations, the holy grail is constructive productive cultures where people want to work, make discretionary effort and contribute their best skills. The best cultures are transparent – sharing openly so employees can make the most informed decisions. They seed innovation by fostering appropriate risk taking, and encourage employees to share and explore. This type of culture can be antithetical to a need to protect security and privacy through limited information sharing and confidentiality. The ways companies gather, track, and monitor information send important messages to employees about value and trust.

Companies can balance the need for both security and privacy by educating people about why they’re gathering information and being as transparent as possible. Trust and positive culture are also enhanced by providing more choice and control—giving employees the opportunity to opt out of data gathering when it’s possible. Ultimately, companies need to do what’s right—not just what’s possible—by using their values as a guide.

Resolving The Tension

It’s a tension and the idea of “give to get” is one way to resolve it. When companies extract data from employees and consumers, they must give back as well.

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