Somebody’s watching you and it might be your employer

By Melvin Durai

Wherever you are in the world today, it’s important to realize that someone or something is probably watching you, keeping track of your movements. One of these days, you’ll be in the bathroom, looking at your phone and an advertisement will pop up: “Having trouble doing your business today, Sanjay? Try Metamucil fiber supplement. We guarantee 20 percent more frequent bowel movements!”

You may find yourself asking, “How did they know my name is Sanjay? And how did they know I’ve been in the bathroom for 30 minutes?”

Well, with the help of your phone and various devices, Google and other companies have the ability to track your location and movements, unless you do three things: (1) change 13 settings on your phone to emphasize your desire for privacy; (2) send an email to Google chief Sundar Pichai with the subject line “Please stop stalking me”; (3) change your name from Sanjay to Guillermo.

Yes, it’s very complicated. And frankly, if you’re overly concerned about being tracked, you may want to just get rid of your smartphone, laptop and other devices, and go back to rotary phones, notebooks and letters. Send an aerogram to your aunt in Mumbai and shock her all the way back to 1983.

While you’re at it, you may also want to quit your job and stay at home, because the moment you set foot in your workplace, there’s a good chance that your boss is tracking you, not just with one pair of eyes, but with all kinds of surveillance technology that will make you feel like a Russian general visiting Washington D.C.

Okay, I don’t want to get you too alarmed. This is not happening at EVERY workplace. If you work on a small dairy farm, for example, you can relax. Nobody is watching you, except 36 pairs of eyes in the milking parlor. Even if your boss catches you taking a nap on a sack of hay, he’ll probably think that you’ve worked so hard since 4 a.m. that you deserve a raise. And he’ll slide another sack under you.

But if you work for a large corporation, you need to be extra careful how you conduct yourself at work. Some employers are keeping track of how often you chat with your co-workers, how frequently you go to the bathroom, and how many times you pick your nose. (Picking your nose while working is generally frowned upon, even if you work for Amazon as a “picker packer.”)

As Zephyr Teachout writes in an article titled “The Boss Will See You Now” in The New York Review of Books, nurses and warehouse workers are being required to wear ID badges, wristbands and clothing with chips that allow employers to track their steps. If you usually take 3,500 steps per day, but took 3,700 today, you may have to explain your extra trip to the break room. Did you really need another bag of Cheetos?

Many American truckers and bus drivers are irked about the driver-facing cameras that have been installed in vehicles, depriving them of several rights we should all enjoy, including the right to scratch ourselves in privacy.

Being constantly watched, these drivers can’t be themselves – whether it’s singing loudly to a song on the radio, talking to themselves, or showing a finger to another driver. (I don’t know about you, but I appreciate getting the occasional thumbs-up from other drivers. My wife, however, keeps telling me that I need new glasses.)

Amazon, a particularly rigorous employer, tracks warehouse workers closely and forbids them from talking. “Who wants to be surveilled all day?” an Amazon employee complained to The Washington Post last year “It’s not a prison. It’s work.”

This may be true, but don’t be surprised if you’re sitting in court one day and hear a convicted man pleading with the judge: “I’m so sorry, your honor. I promise I’ll never do it again. Please don’t sentence me to Amazon! Anything but Amazon.”

Melvin Durai is an Indiana-based writer and humorist, author of the humorous novel “Bala Takes the Plunge.” A native of India, he grew up in Zambia and has lived in North America since the early 1980s.

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