Meet the workers fighting back against bosses who spy on them while working from home

Yet despite the rapid adoption of software designed to spy on staff, few people are comfortable with the change. More than 70pc of staff said the trend was likely to erode trust between them and their employers.

That may help explain why now some employees are fighting back against corporate surveillance software with their own tools designed to trick it.

One former Barclays employee has experienced this first hand. When he discovered a heat and motion sensor under his desk in 2016, he went straight to his line manager for an explanation. “He sheepishly told me that they wanted to more efficiently hot desk, and to do that they needed to know who was at their desks. This couldn’t have been true as half the desks in the building were empty.”

Barclays later said there was a “phased roll-out” of such devices, although The Telegraph revealed last weekend that it was being investigated by the UK data watchdog over allegations it was spying on staff earlier this year, with “Sapience” kit which tracked how employees spent their time at work.

Staying ‘online’

While companies are starting to deploy more and more technology to track their staff, employees are turning to tools themselves for a way around it. 

“I need time to go to the gym or else I’d go crazy,” one user explained on Reddit. “I need a way to appear as if I’m online constantly when I am not.”

To do this, some staff have turned to “mouse moving” software, like Move Mouse, to keep their “status” as online across chat platforms such as Slack. Others have instead favoured less risky steps, such as placing their laser mouse on an analogue watch, which keeps it active, or just playing lengthy videos on their laptop. 

“When I’m home and need a break, I just YouTube pure black screen. Some are as long as 36 hours,” says one Reddit user. 

There are downsides to using these “mouse moving” workarounds. Williams cautions that while you could “absolutely fool someone that you’re at the desk and working, I think you’d be a bit naive to do that”.

“The minute someone tries to get hold of you, they’d see you’re not responding. It would raise questions as to what you’re doing.”

It is not just software tracking mouse movements that employees are increasingly coming up against. Many companies are turning to firms such as Time Doctor which screenshot workers’ screens and offer “optional webcam features” to take pictures of staff every 10 minutes.

Aim for ‘absolute privacy’

Experts have warned these are much harder to bypass, although Kickidler, which offers its own productivity tracking software, has said some systems can be tricked by tech-savvy staff, by doing things such as opening up multiple windows or connecting remotely to a separate computer.

For the most-privacy focused, though, there is only one way to stop such surveillance technology. Clear boundaries must be set early on. Staff must make sure they have separate work and personal devices, and two internet connections “for absolute privacy,” one Reddit user advises. 

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