The Return of the Time and Motion Observer: Now at Your Doorstep

In the realm of wearable technology, a cautionary tale we've been sounding alarms about is the encroachment of work and insurance into our private lives. As with many of our dystopian prophecies, this one appears to be unfolding faster than anticipated. In a disconcerting twist, the time and motion observer, once confined to the workplace, is now extending its reach into our homes.


Recently, the BBC reported on wearable tech, shedding light on the practices of Appirio, a cloud technology firm that has equipped many of its employees with UP wristbands. These wristbands meticulously track various aspects of their lives, from dietary habits to sleep patterns. This initiative is voluntary, according to Lori Williams, who heads the European division of the American company. Williams asserts that it has already yielded benefits for both employees and the company. She states, "We've had about a hundred employees that have lost a stone or more in the last several months. Last month alone, we collectively walked about 17,000km (10,563 miles). So it's making us not just better employees but I think better people. And I think that's the benefit." Additionally, Appirio has managed to reduce its health insurance costs in the United States by demonstrating to its insurer the positive impact of this life-logging program.


A fundamental principle of health and safety law dictates that safety in the workplace cannot be compromised even if employees willingly engage in risky tasks. The rationale behind this principle is clear: power dynamics can be lopsided, and employees might feel compelled by threats or incentives from both peers and management. Similarly, when an organization encourages its workforce to wear monitoring devices, it becomes unclear whether employees have the freedom to opt out of surveillance without potential repercussions for their careers.


While the employees at Appirio possess valuable skills and a degree of bargaining power, the situation may be bleaker for others. For instance, the UK supermarket chain Tesco faced allegations of 'using electronic armbands to monitor its staff,' with a former worker claiming that 'the Supermarket grades employees on efficiency and can reprimand them for breaks,' as reported by The Independent.


The risks are glaringly evident and straightforward: you might find yourself coerced by your employer to wear a tracking device, not only at work but also within the confines of your home. Your employer may use the information collected to assess and rank your performance, effectively gaining control over your personal life. 


Imagine hearing, "We've noticed you're not getting enough sleep and neglecting morning exercise—please rectify this before the next performance review."


As wearable technology converges with health and insurance, a troubling future looms on the horizon: your insurer may exert pressure on you to don such a device, as refusal could lead to exorbitant insurance premiums. Furthermore, by wearing the device, you may be unwittingly agreeing to whatever terms and conditions the manufacturer chooses to impose. In all likelihood, these terms would grant medical companies and other vested parties access to your data. Unless you're exceptionally affluent, the prospect of refusing to be tracked could become financially untenable.