Consider the cost of tech surveillance before you snoop

Stealing will get you fired. That much is obvious.

Apparently, some prefer to take their chances. I recently spoke with the manager of a retail store, who told me he had seen an employee stealing money from the till. He confronted the employee, who confessed, and is now not working there anymore.

What’s interesting about the story, however, is that the manager was able to notice this was happening through the use of a surveillance camera, a fairly common tool among retail businesses of this type.

Technology has enabled so much fraud; it’s interesting to see what happens when that technology enables fraudsters to be caught.

The use of technology in surveillance is tried and tested. There are entire retail chains dedicated to selling surveillance technology – my personal favourite are the small GPS trackers you can place in cars.

But is surveillance such a great idea?

Plenty of companies use surveillance to make sure employees aren’t getting up to anything dodgy. Most of the time this is fairly benign stuff – no looking at pornography on the job, nothing inappropriate, that sort of thing.

But where this gets murky is when businesses start checking in on everyday activities, like email. In fact, a couple of years ago the Australian Workers’ Union got up in arms about this very topic and pushed to introduce new laws mandating companies consult before installing surveillance equipment.

Why is this so important? Because when it comes to surveillance, businesses may think they’re doing themselves a favour, but they might end up just shooting themselves in the foot – both legally and in a sense of corporate culture.

First of all, if you’re tracking email or any other tech-related communication, you need to have a permit and notify the employees involved – although legislation is dependent on the state.

But secondly, you need to consider how much that surveillance will impact on your culture. This isn’t just about blocking access to Facebook, if you’re actively watching everyone’s email or browsing history it’s going to rub employees the wrong way.

That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad thing or unnecessary. But it will have an impact, and you need to be ready for it. Like the retail manager who catches an employee stealing from the till, digital surveillance can work for you. But just consider the cost.

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