Backhouse Jones Watermark

Big brother is watching you!

10 May

Companies in China have begun using technology to monitor the emotions of their employees. From the outset, the thought of such a scenario would probably make the majority of individuals nervous. It paints a picture of an Orwellian society, where people’s iPods tell them to ‘cheer up’ and order them to stop thinking negatively about corporations. To be honest, the more you read into the situation, the more totalitarian it appears.

The Technology
The key to the monitoring of employee emotions in China, are the helmets provided to the workers. They feature most prominently in construction, manufacturing, and transport companies, with the aim of monitoring stress levels. Scientists have attached brain sensors to the helmets to track the emotions of the wearer and identify dips and/or variations in brain waves that might indicate stress or negative emotions.

By doing so, companies are able to monitor the stress levels of their employees in what might be considered the more high-risk occupations e.g. high-speed train conducting, or electricians working on main power stations.

Creating these helmets is the government-funded, brain surveillance project, Neuro Cap. Who, from what we can see, might also suit the label, ‘Thought Police.’ They are based at Ningbo University, in China, and have advocated in favour of the technology in a number of interviews.

It seems that not everyone who was asked to wear the helmets was onboard with the programme at the beginning. Professor of Neuroscience at the university, Jin Jia, has been quoted saying that test subjects “…thought we could read their mind. This caused some discomfort and resistance in the beginning.” In fairness, it is unlikely that anyone could really blame the test subjects for possessing such reservations.

The professor went on to explain that, after some time with the helmets, the test subjects “…got used to the device…They wore it all day at work.” So, it appears that, after some time with the devices designed to monitor and eradicate negative emotion, the employees were okay with them! Whether or not this soothes any concerns you might have about such technology is up to you.


What’s the objective?
Whilst the picture I have painted does appear to be one of overbearing employers monitoring employees, the actual reason for developing these helmets is actually one of good intention. Businesses and companies want to keep an eye on the mental health of their workers and ensure that they enjoy their working environment.

Employees identified as being ‘too stressed’ by employers may be asked to take ‘unpaid breaks’ or potentially be moved to positions that do not burden the worker with many high-pressure situations. In certain circumstances, the company will ask the stressed worker to go home and, if the situation persists, dismiss them from work.

The figures for the amount of false positive flags issued by the devices is, as of yet, unavailable. There is a real possibility that workers have been unfairly dismissed, or denied necessary paid work time, as a consequence of false diagnosis.

Further, another purpose of the device is to wake up workers who have dozed off. Any Snoozing Sam (or Sally) that decides to rest their eyes in the workplace whilst wearing one of these helmets, may find themselves woken unceremoniously by their own headgear sounding an alarm. Ironically, the thought of being woken up in this way likely lends itself to a tired employees’ stress levels.

The Law
At this point in time, there is no established framework or set of regulations in China to monitor the use of such technology as this. This allows companies to use it rather freely, and there is an incentive for them to do so. An official at State Grid Zhejiang Electric Power reports that company profits have grown by $315 million since the introduction of the devices in 2014.

Whether or not businesses will begin utilising such technology in the UK is a separate question. We, as a jurisdiction, appear to be entering an era of data protection, particularly considering the General Data Protection Regulations. One has to imagine that a person’s internal thoughts and emotions are something that may be considered to be covered by such protective legislation.

It may well be that, to side step such law, companies require consent from their employees to be forced to wear such devices in order to work. Then again, this brings out the age-old question of ‘how free can consent be when passing from employee to employer?’

Luckily, these are questions that we, at Backhouse Jones, have some expertise in. We can satisfy any queries regarding data protection, GDPR, and mind control helmets in the workplace. All you have to do is get in touch with us on 01254 828300.

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