Call centre denies webcam monitoring claims

Eating in front of the computer could be detected by the artificial intelligence system
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A major call centre company has refuted claims that specialist webcams will be fitted to check up on employees while they are working from home.

According to an investigation by the Guardian newspaper, French company Teleperformance had informed employees that the cameras are connected to an artificial intelligence system that can scan for and detect “infractions” such as looking at their phones or eating. It claims that if workers need to leave their desks, they will need to click on “break mode” in the system and give a reason in order to avoid being reported for a breach.

The system is called TP Observer, and can be programmed to take photos every time a breach of pre-set rules is detected. This could include an ‘unknown person’ sitting at the desk (facial recognition software knows who should be there), a period where there have been no keystrokes or unauthorised mobile phone usage.

Teleperformance operates in 34 countries and employs around 380,000 people. According to a spokesperson, 85% of the UK workforce (or 8,000 employees) are currently working from home.

The spokesperson said the claims raised by the newspaper were not true, adding: “We absolutely trust [staff] to do their jobs in a professional manner. It is important to reaffirm that regardless of the new technologies, tools and third-party providers that are being used, our work-at-home tools and processes ensure that the processing of our employees data complies with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and other applicable regulations.”  

The webcam would purely be used for collaboration purposes in the UK and South Africa, and “at no time will we be using the tools to spy on our staff”. 

“Use for collaboration purposes means use for meetings and training sessions and for scheduled video calls between team managers and work-at-home employees and voluntary use by our work-at-home staff in team-building activities, to embrace the social aspect of online work, to connect with coworkers, and to promote healthier working environments,” they said. 

“Use for security purposes means use of webcams to ensure that employees who are processing personal and sensitive personal data of customers on behalf of clients maintain an adequate level of security, as well as a clean desk policy, in line with our office environment. Such monitoring will only be carried out on an intermittent or random basis and not over the entire employee shift.  It will always take place with the employee’s knowledge and at no time be used to conduct covert surveillance on our people.”

The Guardian had reported that around 10,000 staff in the UK were told last week that the cameras and scanning system would be installed next month while they continued to work from home. Teleperformance’s UK clients include NHS Digital, the Student Loans Company and Vodafone.

Last week the TUC called for new legislation to address “huge gaps” in protection for employees in the use of artificial intelligence at work.

The union body warned that without fair rules, the use of AI at work “could lead to widespread discrimination and unfair treatment” and workers could even be subject to being “hired and fired by algorithm”.

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