These huge companies are using AI to snoop through employees’ messages, report says

Major companies like Walmart and Starbucks are reportedly using artificial intelligence software to spy on employees.

Applications such as Slack, Microsoft Teams, Zoom and others are living out Big Brother references as they reportedly check messages from employees using software from a startup A.I. company called “Aware.”

“Huge U.S. employers such as Walmart, Delta Air Lines, T-Mobile, Chevron and Starbucks, as well as European brands including Nestle and AstraZeneca, have turned to a seven-year-old startup, Aware, to monitor chatter among their rank and file, according to the company,” CNBC reported earlier this month.

“Using the anonymized data in Aware’s analytics product, clients can see how employees of a certain age group or in a particular geography are responding to a new corporate policy or marketing campaign,” the outlet reported, citing Jeff Schumann, co-founder and CEO of the Columbus, Ohio-based company. “Aware’s dozens of AI models, built to read text and process images, can also identify bullying, harassment, discrimination, noncompliance, pornography, nudity and other behaviors, he said.”

“Aware said Walmart, T-Mobile, Chevron and Starbucks use its technology for governance risk and compliance, and that type of work accounts for about 80% of the company’s business,” according to CNBC, which noted, “It doesn’t take a dystopian novel enthusiast to see where it could all go very wrong.”

Interestingly, Schumann founded a company called in 2005.

Not surprisingly, Americans already leery about AI did not find this latest report to be a welcome advance in technology.

“I would feel like, I don’t know, like they’re just trying to get something out of me and get me in trouble or something. I don’t know, it would be very sneaky,” one woman told Fox Business‘ Lydia Hu.

“I’ve seen A.I. being used firsthand, and it’s so flawed and so messed up that I just think it wouldn’t be a useful investment of anyone’s time or money anyways. And that just doesn’t really foster a trustworthy kind of business vibe,” another woman expressed.

There were some, however, who did not find anything alarming with the idea.

“I think I’m fine with it because I’m very watchful of what I do on company time, company property, anything like that,” one man told Hu.

Schumann told CNBC that Aware has seen a 150% jump in revenue per year on average over the past five years. The company’s typical customer reportedly has about 30,000 employees.

He noted that “though Aware’s eDiscovery tool allows security or HR investigations teams to use AI to search through massive amounts of data, a ‘similar but basic capability already exists today’ in Slack, Teams and other platforms,” CNBC reported.

“A key distinction here is that Aware and its AI models are not making decisions,” Schumann said. “Our AI simply makes it easier to comb through this new data set to identify potential risks or policy violations.”

He added, “None of our AI models make decisions or recommendations regarding employee discipline.”

Amba Kak, executive director of the AI Now Institute at New York University, worried that the AI technology “results in a chilling effect on what people are saying in the workplace.”

Frieda Powers


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