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ICO probes Barclays’ employee surveillance software trial

The UK’s data regulator has opened an investigation into Barclays’ use of controversial employee surveillance software.

The British lender confirmed in February that it had been using a tool that assesses productivity by monitoring the computer usage of staff in its investment bank.

The tool, developed by the US firm Sapience Analytics, would even send warnings if staff had spent too long away from their desks, prompting an outcry from employees and unions.

Following the backlash, the bank changed tack and said it would only harvest anonymised data from the tool. In a previous case the bank had been accused of monitoring staff movements using black boxes placed under desks.

When it emerged earlier this year that it had been using the tool, the bank said it was intended “to tackle issues such as individual over-working as well as raise general productivity”.

Sapience says on its website that its tool can help managers “understand workflow patterns across functional units”, “identify and address areas of inefficiency to improve business outcomes” and “optimise the business effort and processes to maximise the impact to your bottom line”.

A spokesperson for the Information Commissioner’s Office confirmed that an investigation, revealed by the Sunday Telegraph, had been launched. “People expect that they can keep their personal lives private and that they are also entitled to a degree of privacy in the workplace.

“If organisations wish to monitor their employees, they should be clear about its purpose and that it brings real benefits. Organisations also need to make employees aware of the nature, extent and reasons for any monitoring.”

Productivity monitoring software appears to be increasing in response to the rise of home-working during the pandemic. James Hunter-Paterson, the founder of managed service provider Intalex, told NS Tech last week that his company had seen “a lot of demand for things like time recording, productivity and tracking applications”.

The “apps identify what business processes people are working on and that has been a big increase in customer focus over the last few months”, he added.

“We’re seeing a demand for productivity monitoring apps as a result of Covid-19,” says Intalex founder