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Are Google and Facebook Surveilling Their Own Employees? ( 106

The Guardian just ran an article titled " 'They'll squash you like a bug': how Silicon Valley keeps a lid on leakers," which begins with the story of an employee confronted by Facebook's secretive "rat-catching" team: They had records of a screenshot he'd taken, links he had clicked or hovered over, and they strongly indicated they had accessed chats between him and the journalist, dating back to before he joined the company. "It's horrifying how much they know," he told the Guardian, on the condition of anonymity... "You get on their bad side and all of a sudden you are face to face with Mark Zuckerberg's secret police"... One European Facebook content moderator signed a contract, seen by the Guardian, which granted the company the right to monitor and record his social media activities, including his personal Facebook account, as well as emails, phone calls and internet use. He also agreed to random personal searches of his belongings including bags, briefcases and car while on company premises. Refusal to allow such searches would be treated as gross misconduct...

Some employees switch their phones off or hide them out of fear that their location is being tracked. One current Facebook employee who recently spoke to Wired asked the reporter to turn off his phone so the company would have a harder time tracking if it had been near the phones of anyone from Facebook. Two security researchers confirmed that this would be technically simple for Facebook to do if both people had the Facebook app on their phone and location services switched on. Even if location services aren't switched on, Facebook can infer someone's location from wifi access points.

The article cites a 2012 report that Microsoft read a French blogger's Hotmail account to identify a former employee who had leaked trade secrets. And it also reports that tech companies hire external agencies to surveil their employees. "One such firm, Pinkerton, counts Google and Facebook among its clients." Though Facebook and Google both deny this, "Among other services, Pinkerton offers to send investigators to coffee shops or restaurants near a company's campus to eavesdrop on employees' conversations...

Al Gidari, consulting director of privacy at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society, says that these tools "are common, widespread, intrusive and legal."
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Are Google and Facebook Surveilling Their Own Employees?

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  • Pinkertons... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 18, 2018 @06:46AM (#56278937)

    So Amazing they kept the name after this: []

  • ... and legal (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 18, 2018 @06:53AM (#56278945)

    "... and legal" they write. But at best "and legal in some countries". Most of this would e.g. in Germany require a concrete suspicion and the "worker's council" to be informed (and probably approve) on a per-case basis at the least.
    Some of this sounds like it would not be even remotely legal no matter what, unless you call the police and have them do it (which they'll probably not feel like though).

    • Re:... and legal (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 18, 2018 @07:28AM (#56278987)

      Formally, you are right. But the "meme machine" is working on it.

      I used to work for a bigger German company. Yes, there was a worker's council, and yes, they did the best they could. But whenever some change was announced, our managers talked about "oh, the council" and rolled their eyes... the message was clear.

      There's a strong meme machine trying to convince us that everyone is a grown up and "doesn't have to accept any contract", thus protection laws are unnecessary (and hinder progress). Watch out for that, or we'll see even more abusive "tools".

    • Re:... and legal (Score:5, Informative)

      by JaredOfEuropa ( 526365 ) on Sunday March 18, 2018 @08:04AM (#56279045) Journal
      I'd think that Pinkertons and other corporate surveillance firms would only be deployed in case of a concrete suspicion, otherwise it'd be prohibitively expensive. Random searches are permissible in a lot of cases. In several European countries, that means this has to be specifically mentioned to in the employment contract, and the measure needs to be proportional to the risk. In case of most companies that would be limited to searching bags and suitcases, but in high risk / high value environments it can also include personal searches. Eavesdropping on personal communications is a big no-no however. Companies may ask that you leave your personal cellphone in a locker, but they can't listen in when you take it onto the premises.

      BTW German staff councils appear to have to be informed on everything. I worked for a large multinational for a while; in our department having to "inform the german staff council" was considered a shit detail and it became something of a running joke trying to pass it on to the most junior staff member or the one absentee in the meeting. It's a pain but then again, at least they have privacy laws that are actually being looked after; the councils seem to take that responsibility very seriously.
      • by PolygamousRanchKid ( 1290638 ) on Sunday March 18, 2018 @10:10AM (#56279365)

        I'd think that Pinkertons and other corporate surveillance firms would only be deployed in case of a concrete suspicion, otherwise it'd be prohibitively expensive.

        Prohibitively expensive to us . . . is chump change to Facebook and Google.

        I could imagine a Pinkerton sales rep, with a lot of chutzpah giving a pitch to Facebook and Google execs, where Pinkerton just plays a few recordings or what they . . . overheard . . . in bars and cafes packed with Facebook and Google employees.

        "Just look at what you can learn from what your employees are saying openly in public places! No illegal bugging necessary! Just simply pay us a small fee to have one of our employees loaf and snoop around all day in bars and cafes!"

        Hey, the next trend will be bars and cafes, with Maxwell Smart "Cones of Silence" . . . !

        In the former East Germany, folks always whispered in restaurants. With 1 in 10 folks there being "informal paid informants" the the DDR's secret police, the Stasi . . . you didn't want to let the next table know about what you were talking about.

        This is why there were never any Nuremberg-style trials after the liberation of East Germany . . . they would have needed to lock up 10% of the population! Not even the US or China would be able to top that figure!

        • How dare you say the US could never imprison that much of the population!

          We're working VERY hard on being the biggest prison state in world history. I know we're not there yet, but give us credit for at least TRYING.

          Gulag FTW!

    • The law is a whore. The party with the most money wins. FB has lotsa QE money, therefore anything they do is lawful.

      And as for TFA's question: Is the Pope Catholic? Does a bear shit in the woods?

      FB & the Goog surveille EVERYONE. Their employees are part of the set "everyone". Therefore yes, obviously, they are snooped.

      Welcome to the Soviet America police state. Would you like fries with that? Please drive thru!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Since they are surveilling half the planet already, why wouldn't they do the same to their employees? Sounds like a no-brainer to me...

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Every once in a while a root surfaces above the ground to reveal itself. We are going to find this is like the tip of iceberg.

    With totalitarian tools like this at their finger tips and completely unregulated, they can not help but use them when then want.

    This has to be fully explored, exposed and regulated.

    It wonâ(TM)t be by govt who probably purchases the intel.

    Also.. a whole generation of intel guys are being spoiled by how easy info comes to them now. Traditional detective skills will wane and their

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I known that when I worked for my last employer, a contractor was able to see what was on my home computer screens, regardless of whether it was Linux or Windows. For Linux I had all listening sockets disabled including NTP. For Windows, remote administration was disabled along with filesharing via Samba. I had to run wireshark to monitor all the traffic. Things that got my suspicion were telemetry being sent to AWS and SSDP requests that were handled by a server within a web-browser. It was absolutely frea

  • All your facebook are belong to us.

  • Unplug. Disconnect -- have you tried it?

    • Unplug.

      In Putinist Amerika . . . Facebook and Google plugin into you ! Disconnect -- have you tried it?

      Facebook and Google are designed and operate like a good brain tumor . . . they're connected to too many vital bodily functions.

      You can never even consciously use Facebook or Google, and they will still have quite an impressive dossier on you, without you knowing about it.

      • You can never even consciously use Facebook or Google, and they will still have quite an impressive dossier on you, without you knowing about it.

        I've preached that for years. The closest a person can get to avoiding them is to block their scripts. But they are like the old Usenet trolls, they just keep adding more. This fact is not hard to show to folks.

        But understanding that the toobz is not private place - never was, never will be - a person should conduct themselves knowing that is the case.

        Unplugging totally is a pretty drastic step. Better to understand that the watchers are watching you, and if you need computer privacy, the internet is

        • Reminds me of the old meme, The only secure computer is one buried deep underground -- and turned off. But good point:if you need computer privacy, the internet is not the place to get it. In fact, those two words should never be seen together!

    • Unplug. Disconnect -- have you tried it?

      Bingo! And if one doesn't want to do that, caution is the watchword.

      These people with their amusing concept of anonymity and privacy on the internet.. So cute and quaint.

      It is as private as a Shopping Mall. It was never designed to be private, and in it's present form is hardly possible to make private.

      And the more steps one takes to obfuscate who they are merely serves as a virtual neon sign that reads "look at ME - I'm interesting!"

      So people need to understand that. If you are doing something il

  • by Anonymous Coward

    What do these companies have to hide?
    What are they so afraid of their own employees saying?
    Are they just protecting trade secrets, or are they really that paranoid we'll find out about some horrible thing they're doing?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Well, the summary mentions a EU content moderation employee. Last year or so one of their former employees in Germany gave an interview saying they're pretty much what conservatives and right-wingers have accused them of, i.e. politically motivated censors.

      Then there's the whole Project Veritas investigation into Twitter that uncovered the same thing on the other side of the pond.

      You're not an effective propaganda tool if too many people know about it. So they have to fight leakers.

    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      What happened to reduce the visibility of some users.
      The wider internet learning about internal brand policy.
  • Of course they are. This is part of a larger trend of new security companies that focus on the 'human element' in security issues, looking for 'insider threats'.

    One example is/was RedOwl, which creates scorecards for managers that rated employees on things like:
    - Medial leaker
    - Saboteur
    - "Negligent"

    It does this by grabbing all data is can get its hands on, including scanning email inboxes and monitoring employees social media.

    I've captured their old website here: []
  • It isn't illegal to use surveillance on your employees. However, it is highly unethical! I am not surprised that Google and Facebook engage in this behavior because they almost do it to their customers. This is is why I no longer use a Gmail address and I no longer use Facebook. For a competent hobbyist BSD or Linux user, setting up your own email server is crazy easy. And if you don't know how, there are plenty of good tutorials out there just for the searching.
    • It isn't illegal to use surveillance on your employees.

      That rather depends on the legal jurisdiction of their employment and the type of surveillance. In the EU, employees will normally be entitled to a reasonable expectation of privacy. Which raises the interesting question of whether more intrusive surveillance in the US is a matter of "because we should" or simply "because we can".

    • I actually don't have a problem with it when it is connected to reasonable business need.

      It's when they start censoring minority opinions on marriage that I get concerned.

    • It isn't illegal to use surveillance on your employees. However, it is highly unethical! I am not surprised that Google and Facebook engage in this behavior because they almost do it to their customers.


  • I mean, their main activity isn't to collect as many information about entities and use it for business ?
  • Surely their own employees eat their own dog food?
  • by Qbertino ( 265505 ) <> on Sunday March 18, 2018 @09:06AM (#56279185)

    They're Facebook and Google. The are surveilling everybody.
    They make a living off surveilling people.

  • by rainer_d ( 115765 ) on Sunday March 18, 2018 @09:14AM (#56279209) Homepage

    Consider not working for these companies.

    And consider not using their products^w^w being their product.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      And when the company you've been working at for 15 years decides to outsource their email/calendar to google? Thanks, my salary/bonus info and entire professional contact network is now owned by a marketing company.

      Minimize your use. Confuse what you have to give them. One cannot avoid them completely.

  • ... my surveilling employer overlords.
  • by Tony Isaac ( 1301187 ) on Sunday March 18, 2018 @10:35AM (#56279433) Homepage

    Walk into any fast food restaurant. Those security cameras? They aren't just about preventing armed robbery. They are there to watch employees. Same goes for convenience stores, just about any kind of store.

    Your employer probably logs every URL you navigate to, and every email address you exchange emails with.

    I don't know why this is even news.

    • The biggest concentration of security cameras in any retail establishment are the ones looking straight down at the cash registers, for obvious reasons. The vast majority of "shrinkage" in retail is from employees, not random customers.
    • You agree to it when you work for them. They may or may not be doing it all the time, but if they do you have nothing to complain about.

      And before you think "I'm not doing anything really wrong" consider this...
      At a very large bank, I worked with a guy who was a development manager and he had a large staff. He was very friendly with a woman on his team, and he promoted her to a management position. It was pretty clear what was going on, because she was about 10th in line for that position and was terribl

  • Apply for employment at Amazon, and they make you take a "drug test" via a saliva swab. That's not the way they test for drugs, that's the way they take DNA samples! Every time I've actually been tested for drugs, I had to pee in a cup.
    • by Khyber ( 864651 )

      You're beyond delusional here. Swab tests detect RECENT drug usage, only about two weeks back. IOW they don't want to hire you if you can't at least prove you've got your habits under control.

  • by evolutionary ( 933064 ) on Sunday March 18, 2018 @12:22PM (#56279867)
    China's practices for using data are being used in large tech companies already and by our governments as well. These tools are basically the "all seeing eye" from Tolken and of course Orwell (other writers I'm sure). But this was also predicted by many movies and few noticed. Check out The Matrix, The Dark Night, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Spider-Man: Homecoming. The Circle talked about this more directly but less realistically. (The western government would never allow this monitoring on themselves anymore than the Russian or Chinese governments do). And China is not only tracking everyone through facial recognition glasses worn by police, not only are they keeping database with behavior scores to evaluate who is "disloyal" based on patterns (and past actions of course), but next month they are implementing a "Social Points" system to restrict access to travel for anyone who is considered disloyal based on that database and facial recognition. You are already required to show your ID card for virtually ANY transaction there now. (And is integrated in the WeChat Pay apps of course which is used widely).

    If you are interested in stopping this abuse of data power, stop handing your data to them. Remove apps that are not open source (you can get open source apps for Android from F-Droid [] ). Install a firewall on your phone that can help manage what apps access (Droid Firewall is pretty good). Don't use default Google Android OS (you can't stop it from sending GPS data to them even if you turn it off...Google admitted this late last year, promising to stop using this hard wired phone home feature..sure..). LinageOS works on most Android phones. [])

    Stop using MS Windows, especially Windows 8-10 because not only are data transmitters for every file header and website you visit, but every update Microsoft seems to take more control of the OS away from you (an idea probably borrowed from the iOS updates which did this years ago). You can't stop the auto updates unless you take extreme measures and even they don't work all the time and recently Microsoft is going to force your email links to be opened using Edge rather than your default browser selection. had enough being rammed with a broomstick handle yet by MS? Perhaps you noticed al this Xbox nonsense preinsstalled as well. Have fun reading this summary (see the data separately on other tech sites but this is a nice summary): https://itvision.altervista.or... [] . You can still buy Windows 7 legal licenses including from [] But better to just get off MS Windows. Linux can do virtually all the non-gaming things that MS Windows does (and MacOS as well). Linux Mint ( [] ) is the easiest version of Linux for MS windows only users to get into. I've had kids as young as 7 years old run this with no assistance, and they all liked it MORE than MS Windows. "No crashes" I kept hearing. Using LibreOffice you can do all your office needs, (I've been on it for for 5 years and it keeps getting better), your favorite browsers (minus Edge but who uses that voluntarily these days) are all there, your email is easy peasy and will play all your videos and stuff. With no tracking from MS or the evil Cortana (that thing is horrible)

    Keep any social media apps off your phone. Just...don't install them. You don't need them. Truth is anything that shares data over the web can be made as a mobile friendly website. The only reasons for an app is to take advantage of the data tracking tools on your phone and possibly install a local database there, generally for sending to a 3rd party later. That includes, GPS (in the vast majority of cases) and possibly accessing your contacts, browsing history, and let's not forget possibly your
    • I m still using Ubunt 10.10 the last great version to use Gnome 2. The now-obsolete and broken Firestarter firewall works fine it and I have no problem what I do. Binaries of some programs don't work but LibreOffice latest version works fine. Whatever programs they released 8 years ago are more than sufficient & advanced for my needs. When I check the task monitor, I know what those programs are for and what they are doing. With Windows now, hundreds if not thousands of background services would be runn
  • I don't care if a Company watches their employees WHILE AT WORK, as that is within their right to do so while an employee is utilizing corporate assets and / or is accessing corporate networks. This isn't new as companies have been doing this for a long time.

    It is NOT ok for any company to spy on their employees outside of company time and they should be prosecuted heavily for it.

    Protip: Leave your company provided laptop and phone at the office lest you consent to such monitoring. If you telecommute, ta

  • I imagine working for Google or Facebook is like working for "The Circle" -- which, I also imagine, was the implied point.


    Plus not essentially new news.

    People have been using PII data from Facebook for as long as Facebook has been around. I remember being in discussions with incubators folks trying to glean stock prediction data from whatever they could find on facebook. 13 years ago, people didn't really have a sense of censoring themselves on social media and Facebook's
  • NOT to think they don't! To them, DATA is king, and, as paranoid as a lot of companies are, you can bet they watch EVERYTHING, their employees do, legally & illegally.

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