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更新时间:2018-4-7 10:17:29 来源:纽约时报中文网 作者:佚名

How much should your boss know about you?

If you worked for Ford in 1914, chances are at some stage in your career a private investigator was hired to follow you home.


If you stopped for a drink, or squabbled with your spouse, or did something that might make you less of a competent worker the following day, your boss would soon know about it.


This sleuthing was partly because Ford’s workers earned a better salary than the competition. The car manufacturer raised pay from $2.39 a day to $5 a day, the equivalent of $124 (£88) today. But you had to be a model citizen to qualify.


Your house needed to be clean, your children attending school, your savings account had to be in good shape. If someone at the factory believed you were on the wrong path, you might not only miss out on a promotion, your job was on the line.


This ‘Big Brother’ operation was run by the Ford Sociological Department, a team of inspectors that arrived unannounced on employees’ doorsteps. Its aim was to “promote the health, safety and comfort of workers”, as an internal document put it. And, to be fair, it also offered everything from medical services to housekeeping courses.

一群监察员招呼都不打,会突然出现在员工家门口,这个如同反乌托邦小说《1984》中的“老大哥”(Big Brother)行动由福特社会学部门负责,按照一个内部文件所说,旨在“提升员工健康、安全及满足感”。不过,说句公道话,这个行动也为员工提供了从医疗服务到家政课程的各种服务。

The programme lasted eight years. It was expensive, and many workers resented its paternalism and intrusion. Today, most of us would find it unacceptable – what does my work have to do with my laundry, bank account or relationships?


Yet, the idea of employers trying to control workers’ lives beyond the workplace has persisted, and digital tools have made it easier than ever. Chances are, you use several technologies that could create a detailed profile of your activities and habits, both in the office and out of it. But what can (and can’t) employers do with this data? And, where do we draw the line?


What’s my worker score?


We’re all being graded every day. The expensive plane tickets I bought recently have already popped up in my credit score. The fact that I‘ve stopped jogging every morning has been noted by my fitness app – and, if it were connected with an insurance company, this change might push up my premiums.


From my online activity, Facebook knows I love beer, and believes my screen is a good spot for hipster brewery adverts. One website recently claimed that I am Colombia’s 1,410 th most influential Twitter user – something that could improve my credit score, it seems. And, yes, my desirability and efficiency as a worker is also up for evaluation and can be given a number.


And we’re not just talking the ‘rate-a-trader’ style online review process used on freelancer platforms or gig-economy services. A scoring system of sorts has lodged itself in the corporate world.


HR departments are crunching increasing volumes of data to measure employees in a more granular way. From software that records every keystroke, or the ‘smart’ coffee machines that will only give you a hot drink if you tap it with your work ID badge there are more opportunities than ever for bosses to measure behaviour.


Some analysts think this industry could be worth more than $1 billion by 2022.


One big aim of data collection is to make “predictions about how long an employee will stay, and it may influence hiring, firing, or retention of people,” says Phoebe Moore, Associate Professor of Political Economy and Technology at Leicester University in the UK and author of the book The Quantified Self in Precarity: Work, Technology and What Counts.

英国莱斯特大学政治经济与技术系的副教授菲比摩尔(Phoebe Moore)说,收集数据的一个重要目的是“预测员工能留任多久,这也会影响雇佣、解聘,或者留住员工”等方面。菲比摩尔也是《未知中的自我量化:工作、技术与影响因素》一书的作者。

Data collection is “changing employment relationships, the way people work and what the expectations can be”, says Moore.


One problem with this approach is that it’s blind to some of the non-quantifiable aspects of work. Some of the subtler things I do in order to be a better writer, for instance, are not quantifiable: having a drink with someone who tells me a great story, or imagining a piece on my commute. None of these things would show up in my ‘job score’. “A lot of the qualitative aspects of work are being written out,” says Moore, “because if you can’t measure them, they don’t exist”.


The dilemma of data


A healthy, physically active person is a better worker, right? Research consistently suggests activity decreases absenteeism and increases productivity. This has spawned a thriving health and wellness industry with programmes worth billions.


Employees value these health initiatives not only because their bosses might allow them time off to participate but also because if they track exercise via their phone, smartwatch or fitness wristband they can earn rewards.


“I can just wear this device, and I get points and buy stuff for doing things I would already (be) doing anyway without it,” says Lauren Hoffman, a former salesperson for one of the programmes in the US, who was also enrolled in it herself.

“戴着这个设备,能拿积分换东西,反正能不能换都要运动的,何乐不为?”霍夫曼(Lauren Hoffman)说。她是美国某个健康计划的前销售人员,自己也加入了这项计划。

Furthermore, the workplace offers an environment that can help people to reach their health goals. Research suggests that fitness programmes work better when they are combined with social encouragement, collaboration and competition. Offices can foster all that: they can organise running clubs, weekly fitness classes or competitions to help workers thrive.


There are several good business reasons to collect data on employees – from doing better risk management to examining if social behaviours in the workplace can lead to gender discrimination.  “Companies fundamentally don't understand how people interact and collaborate at work,”, says Ben Waber, president and CEO of Humanyze, an American company which gathers and analyses data about the workplace. He says that he can show them.

从完善风险管理,到查看工作中是否有性别歧视,收集员工数据也有其道理。瓦贝尔(Ben Waber)说,“公司根本不知道员工在工作中是怎么交流合作的,”但他的数据公司可以向企业提供这些信息。他是修门奈资公司(Humanyze)的总裁兼首席执行官,其公司致力于收集和分析工作场所的各种数据。

Humanyze gathers data from two sources. The first is the metadata from employees’ communications: their email, phone or corporate messaging service. The company says analysing this metadata doesn’t include reading the content of these messages, nor the individual identities of the people involved, but involves crunching the more general information i.e. duration, frequency and general localisation so, will tell them which department an employee belongs to.


The second area is data gathered from gadgets like Bluetooth infrared sensors which detect how many people are working in one particular part of an office and how they move around. They also use ‘supercharged’ ID badges that, as Waber says, are beefed up with “microphones which don't record what you say, but do voice-processing in real time.” This allows measurement of the proportion of time you speak, or how often people interrupt you.


After six weeks of research, the employer gets a ‘big picture’ of the problem it wants to solve, based on the analysed data. If the aim, for instance, is to boost sales, they can analyse what their best salespeople do that others don’t. Or if they want to measure productivity, they can infer that the more efficient workers talk more often with their managers.


Waber sees it as “a lens of very large work issues, like diversity, inclusion, workload assessment, workspace planning, or regulatory risk”. His business case is that these tools will help companies save millions of dollars and even years of time.

瓦贝尔将其视为“解决各类工作问题的万花筒,如多样性、包容性、工作量评估、工作空间规划,或者监管风险”。 他的数据评估服务能帮公司客户省下数百上千万美元,甚至节省几年的时间。

Collection and protection


But not everyone is convinced of the usefulness of these techniques, or whether such personally intrusive technology can be justified. A PwC survey from 2015 reveals that 56% of employees would use a wearable device given by their employer if it was aimed at improving their wellbeing at work. “There should be some payback from something like this, some benefit in terms of their workplace conditions, or advantages,” says Raj Mody, an analyst from the firm. And Hoffman remembers that these programmes were not always an easy sell. “You’re going to get the data and you're going to use it against me,” she was often told by sceptical workers.

不过,不是每个人都相信这些技术的有效性,或相信这种入侵私生活的技术合乎情理。普华永道事务所(PwC)从2015年开始的一项调查显示,如果提供可佩戴设备是为了提高员工的工作幸福感,那56%的员工会使用。该公司的分析师莫迪(Raj Mody)说:“但你得给点补偿,在工作环境这方面给点好处。”包括霍夫曼也记得这些项目并不总是那么好推销。“你拿到我们的数据,就会用来对付我们,”总有员工这么质疑她。

And there is a fundamental problem: these fitness tracking measurements are often inaccurate. People are very bad at self-reporting and fitness trackers and smartphones are not exactly precise. A recent evidence review shows that different models and techniques gather different results and it is very difficult to draw trustworthy comparisons between them.


It is also unclear if counting steps, for instance, is actually a good way of measuring activity, both because this measurement doesn’t take intensity into account – a step made while running counts just as much as a step made walking at home – and walking is more difficult for some than others.


Another issue is the amount of data these programmes can collect. They not only track your daily activity, but also often offer health screenings for participants, which allows them to register things that don’t seem like your boss’s business: your cholesterol level, your weight, or even your DNA.


In most cases, it is illegal in the US and Europe for companies to discriminate against workers based on their health data or any genetic test results, but there are some grey areas. In 2010, Pamela Fink, the PR manager of an energy firm in the US, sued her employer because she claimed she was sacked due to a double mastectomy to reduce her probability of developing cancer. While the company didn’t have access to her DNA results, she contended that they knew about the risk because the surgery showed up on her insurance bills. The case was settled out of court.

一般而言,在美国和欧洲,法律禁止公司因健康数据或任何基因测试结果而歧视员工,不过也有灰色地带。2010年,美国一家能源公司的公关部经理芬克(Pamela Fink),起诉了公司,宣称自己为了减少得癌机率做了双侧乳腺切除术,结果被炒了鱿鱼。虽然公司并没有获得她的DNA测序结果,但她坚称公司知道她的患病风险较高,因为保险单里记录了这场手术。这个案子最后在庭外和解。

Wellness programme providers say that employers only see aggregated and anonymised data, so they can’t target specific employees based on their wellness results. Humanyze ensures its clients are not forcing their employees to be monitored, but instead give them the chance to opt in. In a similar fashion to wellness programmes, they anonymise and collate the information that they share with employers. Waber is emphatic that his company never sells the data on to third parties, and emphasises transparency throughout the process.


But this kind of data could be used in more controversial ways, and the goodwill of the companies involved doesn’t eliminate all the risks. Data could be stolen in a cyberattack, for instance, or it could be used in ways that are not transparent for users. It “could be sold to basically anyone, for whatever purpose, and recirculated in other ways,” says Ifeoma Awunja, a sociologist at Cornell University who researches the use of health data in the workplace.

但是这类数据仍然可能被不当使用,引起争议,公司的一番好意并不能规避所有风险。例如,数据可能在网络攻击中失窃,或者,使用时不够透明。康奈尔大学研究职场健康数据使用状况的社会学家阿文加(Ifeoma Awunja)说,数据“基本上有可能出售给任何人,用于任何目的,或通过其他方式再流传出去”。

There are reports that some providers are doing just that already – even if they data they sell is anonymous, they could be cross-referenced with other anonymous data to identify people. Not all these companies do it, and some say it is not smart business to do so. “Taking a short-term profit on user data would damage your company’s reputation, causing user volume to plummet and thus your value to clients to diminish” says Scott Montgomery, CEO of Wellteq, a corporate wellness provider based in Singapore.

有报告说有些供货商已经这么在做,虽然他们出售的数据是匿名的,但这些数据可以和其他匿名数据相互对照来识别出当事人。不过不是所有的公司都这么做,有的表示这样并不明智。新加坡提供健康计划的维尔泰克公司( Wellteq)的首席执行官蒙哥马利(Scott Montgomery)说:“利用用户数据追求短期利益会损毁公司的声誉,导致用户量锐减,客户评价变差。”

But even if all the companies did the right thing and acted only in their costumers’ best interest, people in some places are still only protected by their wellness programme’s goodwill. The US law is “significantly behind” the European Union and other parts of the world in protecting users, says Awunja.


In the EU, a new General Data Protection Regulation (GDRP) will come into force thisMay, which will outlaw any use of personal data to which the user didn’t explicitly consent. In the US, the legislation varies between states. In some of them, sharing some health information with third parties is not illegal as long as the data doesn’t identify the person. Furthermore, according to Gary Phelan, a lawyer at Mitchell & Sheridan in the US, since this data is generally not considered medical data, it does not have the privacy restrictions as medical data.

在欧盟,一个新的通用数据保护条例 (GDRP) 即将在五月生效,条例规定,任何个人数据的使用,用户未获得明确应允,都是非法的。在美国,这类立法在各州的情况却不尽相同。有些州,只要没有披露当事人的身份,那么与第三方共享健康数据,并不违法。除此之外,据美国米切尔和谢里丹律师事务所(Mitchell & Sheridan)的律师费仑(Gary Phelan)所说,鉴于这些健康数据一般不被视为医疗数据,因此也不会受制于有关医疗数据的隐私条例。

There is also the question of return on investment for the employers. Do they actually save businesses money? These programmes are meant to lower health insurance premiums both for companies and employees, since they are supposed to decrease health risk, sick days, and hospital costs. But it is not clear if this actually happens. A 2013 study by the Rand Corporation claims that, while these programmes save companies enough money to pay for themselves, they “are having little if any immediate effects on the amount employers spend on health care.”

还有个问题事关雇主的投资回报率。健康计划真的能帮公司省钱吗?这些项目旨在为公司和个人降低医疗保险的保费,毕竟理论上能减低雇员患病风险、减少病假和住院费用。不过是否真能如此,也不好说。2013年,兰德公司(Rand Corporation)一项研究声称,虽然这些健康计划帮公司减少了需要向自己支付的费用,但是他们“对雇主在医保上的花销,几乎没什么直接影响”。

With all these tools, “human beings are evaluated in terms of the risk that they pose to the firm,” says Awunja. Still, it’s a complicated balance: dealing with the everyday habits of employees as if they were just another hit to the bottom line sounds a lot like the old days of the Sociological Department. Whatever benefits these technologies can bring, they have to balance with the privacy rights and expectations of workers.




There is an episode from TV show Black Mirror that offers a chilling warning. In it, every person is given a score based on their interactions on a social platform that looks strikingly like Instagram. This score defines almost every opportunity they have in life: what jobs they can get, where they live, which plane tickets they can buy or who can they date.

电视剧《黑镜》( Black Mirror)其中一集,给了人们一个毛骨悚然的警示。剧中有一个神似照片墙(Instagram)的照片分享社交平台,人们通过在这个平台上的互动获得分数。这个分数决定了人们在生活中的每个机会:他们能找什么样的工作、住在哪里、买几等机票、和谁约会等等。

Although not quite as sinister, this illustrates the technological, legal and ethical limitations of doing something similar elsewhere. In most parts of the world, the law prevents your HR department from sharing or requesting data about you from your credit card provider, your healthcare provider, or your favourite online dating site, unless you explicitly consent that it can do so.


This should keep the most cynical temptations at bay for now, but how to reap the benefits of data in an acceptable way? There is a strong case for finding this balance: as Waber says, data can give you evidence-based advice for advancing your career, or for enhancing your effectivity at work. Having a space for taking care of your health at work might improve your happiness at your job, and some studies suggest that this also translates into a productivity push.

从现在起,应该防止用收集数据来逐利的贪婪行为。但是,到底如何以合理的方式获得数据的益处呢?达到平衡,强而有效的方法是有的 。正如瓦贝尔所说,数据可以为你提供有事实根据的建议:比如如何提升事业,如何提高工作效率等。工作时有点私人空间来养生锻炼,可以提高职业幸福感,有研究表明这也能转成一种生产推动力。

Part of the answer seems to be to agree to certain ethical standards. In a paper, Awunja proposes some practices like informing employees of the potential risks for discrimination with the data, not penalising those who decline to take part in these programmes, and setting a clear ‘expiration date’ to the collected data.


This is an important conversation to have, even if you are of those with nothing to hide. As it turns out, it is very likely that giving away our data is going to be part of the everyday experience of work in the near future, at least in the corporate world.