Thursday 20 February 2020 3:03 pm

Barclays scraps Big Brother-style spyware on staff computers

Barclays has scrapped the use of spyware software that tracked time employees spent at their desks, the day after City A.M. revealed the banking giant was using the software at its London headquarters.

The lender had been criticised by HR experts and privacy campaigners for its use of the technology, which was introduced in a pilot scheme last week. 

The system monitored the activity of Barclays staff via their computers, and in some instances admonished the workers if they were judged to be insufficiently active. 

The software, which was provided by Sapience, told staff to “avoid breaks” as it monitored their productivity and recorded toilet breaks as “unaccounted activity”.

A Barclays spokesperson said: “We always intended to listen to colleague feedback as part of this limited pilot, and we have taken steps to ensure that no individual data is visible to managers.”

Data on productivity will be collected, but will be aggregated rather than individualised, City A.M. understands.

A Barclays whistleblower told City A.M. that the stress the software was causing was “beyond belief”, adding that it “shows an utter disregard for employee wellbeing”.

“Employees are worried to step away from their desks, have full lunch breaks, take bathroom breaks or even get up for water as we are not aware of the repercussions this might have on our statistics,” they said.

Sapience claims that its software creates “unprecedented transparency” within companies, offering “automated work pattern reporting and real-time analytics”.

The product compiles a daily report into employees’ activity. One “work yoga” assessment sent to an employee earlier this week, seen by City A.M., warned the staff member: “not enough time in the zone yesterday!”

Privacy campaigning group Big Brother Watch condemned it as “creepy”.

“Managers would never get away with breathing down employee’s necks, personally monitoring their screens or logging toilet and water breaks,” said Silkie Carlo, the group’s director.

“The availability of technology to surveil staff surreptitiously does not make it any more acceptable.”

Earlier today, the Trades Union Congress described Barclays’ use of the software as “Dystopian Big Brother tactics that show a total disregard for hardworking staff”.