In 2020, with office employees around the world working full-time from home, companies are stepping up their spyware game. Accordingly, employees are maneuvering mightily to outfox their own corporate Big Brother.
If you didn’t realize that companies were tracking their employees’ online activity already, well, bless your heart. I have a secret. Pssst, everything you do online is likely being tracked by somebody, somewhere. Companies have long had tracking systems in place, reportedly to use for an aggregate report for company executives, to try and help employees maximize productivity.
According to CNBC, Gartner reported that approximately half of large corporations monitored online employee activity. By the end of 2020, they predict at least 80% of companies will use some sort of internal tracking systems.
For companies with more than 1,000 employees, internal spyware has been the norm. However, internal spyware sales have had a boom since March. Some of these programs, like Time Doctor, ActivTrak, Sneek, and Teramind, are popular versions.
Companies with zero chill can also use a program called StaffCop. These programs allow a variety of services for the companies: Video monitoring through the employee webcam (yikes!), remote screen shots, login trackers, and even keystroke activity. It’s a lot.
Employees are onto this, though, and have become equally resourceful at showing The Man up. Anti-surveillance software programs are flying off the virtual shelves as employees seek out ways to keep corporate noses out of their business and their homes. Nobody likes a micromanager or a tattletale, especially an omniscient one.
The ingenuity of the human mind is mighty impressive and people are finding creative ways to block the intrusive snitchware.
One super simple way to foil the unwanted scrutiny is merely to do any non-work activity on a second device, be it a laptop, tablet, or smartphone. The spyware will still track your hours online and collect other data, but they won’t know everything. It’s good practice not to conduct personal work on a company machine anyway.
More tech-savvy workers are installing anti-surveillance programs that build a ring-fence around the spyware. This will show that you are online but won’t allow the software to track your every move. According to Wired, these and other programs that create fake mouse movements make workers appear like they’re tied to their desks, even when they aren’t.
Presence Scheduler sets your Slack status to permanently active. Slack caught on at one point and updated the system; Presence Scheduler then updated their system to counter Slack’s update. Another Slack hack is to keep your status set to “Away” even when you’re working. This works for most IM systems you may have. Your team and higher ups should get used to seeing the Away indicator, even when you’re replying to them. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Reddit has a whole thread on privacy measures and software to use for working and studying from home. One tip is to open Notepad and place something heavy on the space bar.
Then there’s this genius on a Reddit subthread who attached their mouse to an oscillating fan. It sounds funny, but intrusive software isn’t.
In fact, employers are required to let employees know they are being monitored. Best practices tell us to always be aware that our movements are being tracked, especially on a work computer.
Most employees are not trying to take advantage of the company. In a recent KPMG American Worker Survey of more than 1,400 people in large companies, 79% of workers report an improvement in their quality of work, and 70% say their productivity has increased since moving to a home office. However, 74% also report an increase in work demands, and 45% report that their mental health has suffered.
Of course, some of that is pandemic-related. Knowing they are being constantly monitored definitely is another factor – it breaks down trust. Most employees aren’t blowing off work at all; they are merely trying to stay sane. With the whole family at home, combined with the extra stress and labor that COVID-19 has heaped upon everyone’s plates, doing their actual jobs is most likely a mental getaway from daily drudgery.
Of course, you will always have your scammers, rapscallions, and lazybones. They have a way of making it into every company. However, they are just as skilled at getting away with not doing their work in person as they are remotely. Some people will work twice as hard to not do their actual job. This is not your average employee, though. Most people are not going to mess around and risk losing their job, especially now.
Employers need to start considering the end goal and lay off the nitpicking and spying. Is the work getting done? Is it getting done at roughly the same rate or faster than it was getting done before remote work became the standard? Okay, then maybe pump the brakes on all this snitchware. It only serves to heighten mistrust and adds to employee stress.
Of course, companies should have some ways of keeping track of productivity and employee hours. They are paying for the work to get done, and some workers are paid by the hour. However, human nature will rebel against too much intrusiveness, especially in their own homes. Employers need to realize that they can only go so far and scrutinize so much when they are “entering,” at least virtually, their employees’ personal space. In the meantime, there’s always the oscillating fan scam.
Australia vs Facebook: A conflict of news distribution
(BUSINESS NEWS) Following a contentious battle for news aggregation, Australia works to find agreement with Facebook.
Australia has been locked in a legal war against technology giants Google and Facebook with regard to how news content can be consumed by either entity’s platforms.
At its core, the law states that news content being posted on social media is – in effect – stealing away the ability for news outlets to monetize their delivery and aggregate systems. A news organization may see their content shared on Facebook, which means users no longer have to visit their site to access that information. This harms the ability for news production companies – especially smaller ones – from being able to maintain revenue and profit, while also giving power to corporations such as Facebook by allowing them to capitalize on their substantial infrastructure.
This is a complex subject that can be viewed from a number of angles, but it essentially asks the question of who should be in control of information on a potentially global scale, and how the ability to share such data should be handled when it passes through a variety of mediums and avenues. Put shortly: Australia thinks royalties should be paid to those who supply the news.
Australia has maintained that under the proposed laws, corporations must reach content distribution deals in order to allow news to be spread through – as one example – posts on Facebook. In retaliation, Facebook completely removed the ability for users to post news articles and stories. This in turn led to a proliferation of false and misleading information to fill the void, magnifying the considerable confusion that Australian citizens were confronted with once the change had been made.
“In just a few days, we saw the damage that taking news out can cause,” said Sree Sreenivasan, a professor at the Stony Brook School of Communication and Journalism. “Misinformation and disinformation, already a problem on the platform, rushed to fill the vacuum.”
Facebook’s stance is that it provides value to the publishers because shared news content will drive users to their sites, thereby allowing them to provide advertising and thus leading to revenue.
Australia has been working on this bill since last year, and has said that it is meant to equalize the potential imbalance of content and who can display and benefit from it. This is meant to try and create conditions between publishers and the large technology platforms so that there is a clearer understanding of how payment should be done in exchange for news and information.
Google was initially defiant (threatening to go as far as to shut off their service entirely), but began to make deals recently in order to restore its own access. Facebook has been the strongest holdout, and has shown that it can leverage its considerable audience and reach to force a more amenable deal. Australia has since provided some amendments to give Facebook time to seek similar deals obtained by Google.
One large portion of the law is that Australia is reserving the right to allow final arbitration, which it says would allow a mediator to set prices if no deal could be reached. This might be considered the strongest piece of the law, as it means that Facebook cannot freely exercise its considerable weight with impunity. Facebook’s position is that this allows government interference between private companies.
In the last week – with the new agreements on the table – it’s difficult to say who blinked first. There is also the question of how this might have a ripple effect through the tech industry and between governments who might try to follow suit.
Plant-based milk company Oatly is going public in the U.S.
(BUSINESS NEWS) With the growing popularity of plant-based goods, it is unsurprising to see Oatly going to market, but how much the investment pays off remains to be seen.
On Tuesday, the plant-based milk company, Oatly, filed for an initial public offering (IPO) in the U.S., which could value the company between $5 billion and $10 billion.
The IPO will take place after the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) completes its review process and is subject to market conditions. Additional details of the planned sale were not offered in the confidential filing. The price and number of shares available to purchase are yet to be determined.
The Sweden-based vegan food and drink maker was founded in the 1990s by brothers Rickard and Björn Öste. The company sells its products online and in more than 50,000 retail stores in 20 countries across Europe and Asia. The company entered the U.S. in 2017 and has also partnered with cafes, such as Starbucks.
Last July, Oatly raised $200 million in investment equity. The company is backed by former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and celebrity investors like Oprah Winfrey, Natalie Portman, and Jay-Z. According to PitchBook, the company was valued at around $2 billion at that time.
In 2019, the company generated about $200 million in revenue, which is almost double the year before. Figures for 2020 haven’t been released yet, but the company planned on doubling them again.
Although the numbers haven’t been made public, it isn’t a far-off stretch to say the company could have done just that. Demand for plant-based products has been high. In just the first week of March last year, Nielsen statistics showed the sales of oat milk were up 347.3%.
This rise is due to consumers seeking alternatives to animal products and healthier food options. Already, fast-food chains, casual, and upscale restaurants have entered the plant-based food sector by adding new plant-based items to their menus.
Burger King has its Impossible Whopper with a plant-based patty. Baskin-Robbins offers three vegan ice cream flavors. Starbucks also announced in December that it would now serve oat milk at all its locations nationwide starting in the spring.
Oatly already has a large following. As more health and environment-conscious consumers are willing to seek and pay for these types of products, it seems like their following will only continue to grow.
Fake news? Well, what about fake reviews?
(BUSINESS NEWS) Amazon is swamped with fake reviews, making it harder than ever to trust whether or not a product is legit. How can you spot them and avoid falling victim to this shady practice?
These days, most of us have turned to online shopping in lieu of brick-and-mortar establishments to get our favorite items shipped directly to our front door. With many retailers still closed, and many more of us understandably wary of exposing ourselves to the risk of COVID-19, it’s easier to just click “buy” and then spend the next two days with our noses pressed to our windows in anticipation of the arrival of our new toy or garment. But are we at risk of being tricked by fake reviews?
If you’re like most people, you probably depend on product reviews to make a purchasing decision. Honestly, it’s perfectly reasonable to see what others thought of the item before you buy it. These online reviews are almost like your neighbor, who whipped out his lawnmower and bragged how it goes from 0 to 4 mph in less than thirty seconds. Obviously — obviously — you had to run out to your nearest garden center to pick up one of your own after his glowing review of it, right?
That’s kinda like online reviews, too. You can’t just knock on the purchaser’s door and ask them what they thought of it, which is why you carefully peruse those reviews and weigh those pros and cons. Okay, this shirt fits loose. Fine, these kitchen shears broke after three uses. Whoa, this brand of potato chips puts hair on your chest…? Sweet! And you also probably looked at those 3-star reviews, too, to see what was merely “meh” about the product. With this assortment of mixed reviews, you can be confident that you’re making a rock-solid choice.
Uh, sadly, nope.
Unfortunately, Amazon (as well as other major retailers, such as Walmart) are often fraught with a glut of fake reviews. In fact, there are numerous Facebook pages dedicated to the purchase of these reviews, and many of the reviewers are compensated with a monetary reward (usually the cost of the item, plus a few extra dollars for their work) for posting the glowing 5-star rave.
So what can you do to help protect yourself for falling for these seemingly harmless lies?
Well, first and foremost — a fake review isn’t necessarily harmless. If a defective or dangerous product is boosted by a false review, it can seriously harm you. Sure, there’s a good chance the fake reviews are benign, and the worst you’ll be in for it is losing a few bucks on a crap item. But if something is using counterfeit or unsafe ingredients (such as minoxidil in potato chips because, real talk, chips aren’t supposed to put hair on your chest), then yes, you need to be informed of it so you can make an educated decision about whether or not that item is coming home with you.
So, the question remains: How can you, intrepid shopper extraordinaire, avoid purchasing a lemon? (Unless, of course, your goal was to buy an actual lemon in the first place. Margaritas, anyone?) The good news is that there are a couple things you can do. For starters, common sense goes a long way. Do the reviews offer any context, or is it just line after line of, “Loved it!” without any actual feedback on the item? That’s why those 3-star reviews are so priceless. Usually the reviewer actually used the item and had a valid reason for their tepid review, allowing you to make an educated decision about it.
Finally, there are a couple of websites you can use to help you out. First, there’s Fakespot. This web extension will cull out all the fake reviews, allowing you to see at-a-glance the remaining genuine reviews. It then reviews the item for its credibility, letting you know if the seller was trying to pull a fast one on you. Then there’s ReviewMeta. Unlike Fakespot, this website goes through the views and instead of grading the seller, it actually grades the item based on the average score of the remaining real reviews. And by using both of these websites together to check those reviews? You’ve now got yourself a pretty decent idea if the product is actually worth your hard-earned dollars.
It’s far too easy to get scammed these days. However, by staying alert and remaining mindful about your online purchases (and avoiding the temptation to give into those stress-motivated impulse buys), you can avoid being bilked, too. And hey, instead of looking at online reviews, maybe you should go back to the old-fashioned way of doing it: By asking your neighbor for their opinions of items. Just, y’know, do it from at least six feet away, while wearing a face mask.
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