Another reason not to use corporate software: Your bosses are spying on you

Updated: As if the dread of heading into the office on Monday and firing up some ugly, cumbersome enterprise software after a weekend of playing with an iPad (s aapl) weren’t bad enough, here’s another reason: Your bosses might be spying on you. They probably won’t call it spying, though. They’ll call it something like monitoring employee morale or fraud prevention.

Update: On Wednesday, the MIT Technology Review highlighted two of the latest technologies they might be using. One is called Crane and is part of  is available as an add-on to Microsoft’s Yammer collaboration software, via emotion-analysis specialist Kanjoya. It purports to gauge employees’ emotions based on the content of the messages they post on the workplace social media platform.

Another comes from intelligence-industry big data specialist Digital Reasoning, whose software, Jessica Lieber writes, can infer the intent of employees’ e-mails without having to search for specific incriminating phrases.

The technology is interesting and there certainly are pros to monitoring communication over corporate networks. As Lieber wrote about the Digital Reasoning software, “[B]efore the financial meltdown, Goldman Sachs employees wrote e-mails bragging of selling blatantly terrible investments to clients. [Digital Reasoning CEO Tim] Estes says his software could have helped compliance departments catch such activity.”

Talking about Yammer (s msft), Tom Simonite explained the case of a test user that learned employees were annoyed at, and actually made felt stupid by, a new e-mail system, which the company ultimately fixed.

But this sort of technology is nothing new, and it’s not necessarily all good for employees or their employers. Last year, I wrote about Cataphora, a company whose software lets employees intelligently monitor corporate-network communications in much the same way Digital Reasoning’s software might. Cataphora CEO Elizabeth Charnock and I spoke about a broad range of legal and ethical issues, ranging from obvious use cases such as fraud prevention to less obvious (and less ethically sound) uses like keeping depressed workers from operating heavy machinery or tracking how long employees spend on Facebook (s fb).

One interesting thing, she noted, is that knowing too much about employees can actually come back to bite employees in certain lawsuits.

To hear more about what Charnock has to say on the issue of turning big data on employees’ messages, check out Mathew Ingram’s interview with with her at our last Structure: Data conference.

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Feature image courtesy of
Shutterstock user Andrej Vodolazhskyi.