You Won't Believe the Surveillance Capabilities of Future Employee ID Badges

Bosses can take biometrics of employees with an ID badge that monitors motion and listens.

Photo Credit: pathdoc / Shutterstock

A Boston-based company has created badges that can monitor the movements of employees through sensors and can listen to voices—all in a very creepy method to increase company efficiency.

In the Washington Post, Jeff Heath tells the story of Humanyze, an employee analytics company that took technology developed at MIT and spun it into identification badges meant to hang off employees' necks via a lanyard. The badge has two microphones that do real-time voice analysis, with sensors that follow where you are and motion detectors that record how much you move while working.

A report in Bloomberg reveals the origins of the company. In 2014, 57 stock and bond traders "lent their bodies to science" by allowing MIT finance professor Andrew Lo to monitor their actions in a conference room. The study subjects were given a $3 million risk limit and told to make money in various markets. Lo discovered that the successful subjects were "emotional athletes. Their bodies swiftly respond to stressful situations and relax when calm returns, leaving them primed for the next challenge." Traders who encountered problems "were hounded by their mistakes and remained emotionally charged, as measured by their heart rate and other markers such as cortisol levels, even after the volatility subsided."

These badges would naturally concern many people, and the company seems conscious of such a backlash. Ben Waber, chief executive of Humanyze, points out that the badges won't work in bathrooms and that they don't actually tell bosses what employees say, just how they say it. He also says workers will be able to decide whether or not they want to wear the badges, although he does not explain why. He admits it's still a work in progress:

“Those are things we hammer home. If you don’t give people choice, if you don’t aggregate instead of showing individual data, any benefit would be dwarfed by the negative reaction people will have of you coming in with this very sophisticated sensor.”

Despite these questions, Waber predicts that the technology will be widespread soon. "Within three or four years, every single ID badge is going to have these sensors,” he told the Post. “We are only scratching the surface right now.”

Read the entire story at the Washington Post's website.

Michael Arria covers labor and social movements. Follow him on Twitter: @michaelarria