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Privacy Law

New ‘Big Brother’ Software Will Monitor Workers’ Facial Expressions

Posted Jan 16, 2008 11:41 AM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Privacy advocates, rev your engines: Microsoft is developing what a British newspaper describes as "Big Brother" software that will allow employers remotely to monitor their workers' productivity, competence and physical well-being to a degree never before seen.

Among other data, wireless sensors will provide employers with workers' heart rates and stress level, and determine whether they are smiling or frowning, according to the London Times, which bases its article on a patent application filed by Microsoft. More details about how the software likely would function are provided in another London Times article.

"Technology allowing constant monitoring of workers was previously limited to pilots, firefighters and NASA astronauts," the newspaper writes. "This is believed to be the first time a company has proposed developing such software for mainstream workplaces."

Civil liberties advocates, privacy lawyers and union representatives are concerned about the extent to which the software will allow employers to intrude into the private lives of employees while focusing on personal matters rather than the work actually being performed. “This system involves intrusion into every single aspect of the lives of the employees," attorney Hugh Tomlinson of Matrix Chambers tells the Times. "It raises very serious privacy issues.”

Microsoft declined to comment on the patent application, which could be approved this year.

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