Niklas's blog

Microsoft release AI that lets employers automatically spy on employees


Merriam-Webster define 'collusion' this way:

secret agreement or cooperation especially for an illegal or deceitful purpose1

Microsoft have recently introduced AI to detect and report when employees are planning to leave a company or 'collude':

Coming soon to public preview, we’re rolling out several new classifiers for Communication Compliance to assist you in detecting various types of workplace policy violations.2

Microsoft segment this technology into what they call 'classifiers', so that Microsoft 365 administrators can enable which ones they want. For example, there are classifiers for 'sabotage', 'money laundering', and 'stock manipulation'.

This is not exactly new; Microsoft have for quite some time sold tools that allow employers to spy on their employees thanks to 'Microsoft 365 Compliance Center'3 and 'Productivity Score'4.

Back to the new stuff: there are also classifiers named 'gifts and entertainment' and 'leavers'. On the later:

Microsoft Purview Communication Compliance helps organizations detect explicit code of conduct and regulatory compliance violations, such as harassing or threatening language, sharing of adult content, and inappropriate sharing of sensitive information.2

As with most inexplicit and shady legal text, Microsoft have opened the door for customers to let AI spy and report on their employees.

Some of what can be detected is good. However, this can easily be used for bad.

Amazon have since longed spied on employees who engage in union activities.5, not to mention how they develop and use face-recognition software.6: Google have since long spied on employees.7.

None of this is new. All of it can easily be used for nefarious purposes.

Say you're an employer who wants to know who of your employees are talking about CompanyX:

A manager sits down and wants to know who's searching for specific words. Or, wait - why not names? You type in a name. Wait: can I search for messages from a specific person? I wanna see if PersonX has mentioned myself! Wait, oh god, can I use my God Tool to see who's talked about me?

Alan Moore wrote his book Watchmen from a perspective where superheroes are the bad guys. The book starts with a quote from Juvenal, an often satirical poet. 'Quis custodiet ipsos custodes' is what Alan Moore wrote: 'Who watches the watchmen?'

This is not new. But we need to see this for what this is: a tool that is presented as something that will do good; in fact, it's something that can easily and stealthily be used to spy on people. Remember that capitalist companies are fascist in structure and must act cynically toward their employees, or they won't maximise profit.

Where do your rights fit in with all of this? They don't. You've wavered them away when you signed your employment contract.

Just as Facebook grossly helped to facilitate the Myanmar genocide8, capitalist managers will likely not object to this and also mandate even more checks on who's using the massively intrusive tools like the one that Microsoft have just imposed. Likely, they'll cover it up. No watching of the watchmen.

  1. “Definition Of COLLUSION.” 2022. Merriam-Webster. June 3, 2022.

  2. “MC387035: Microsoft Purview: Additional Classifiers For Communication Compliance (Preview).” 2022. PUPUWEB. May 31, 2022.

  3. Matyszczyk, Chris. 2021. “Microsoft Will Now Snitch On You At Work Like Never Before.” ZDNet. November 7, 2021.

  4. Ingram, Mike. 2020. “Microsoft’s New ‘Productivity Score’ Helps Employers Spy On Workers.” World Socialist Web Site. November 29, 2020.

  5. Del, Jason. 2020. “Leaked: Confidential Amazon Memo Reveals New Software To Track Unions.” Vox. October 6, 2020.

  6. Snow, Jacob. 2018. “Amazon’s Face Recognition Falsely Matched 28 Members Of Congress With Mugshots.” American Civil Liberties Union. July 26, 2018. 

  7. Statt, Nick. 2019. “Google Accused Of Spying With New Tool That Flags Large Employee Meetings.” The Verge. October 23, 2019.

  8. Milmo, Dan. 2021. “Rohingya Sue Facebook For £150bn Over Myanmar Genocide.” The Guardian. December 6, 2021.