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Accounting giant PwC has come under fire for the development of a facial recognition tool that logs when employees are absent from their computer screens while they work from home.
The technology, which is being developed specifically for financial institutions, recognises the faces of workers via their computer’s webcam and requires them to provide a written reason for any absences, including toilet breaks.
According to PwC, it is designed to help highly-regulated financial institutions meet their compliance obligations, as workers would normally be monitored for security purposes on trading floors. However, commentators have raised privacy concerns about the use of such a tool while employees are working from home due to coronavirus restrictions.
City commentator David Buik told Financial News that the tool was “a huge intrusion on privacy”, while the CIPD’s head of research and thought leadership Ed Houghton said staff were “likely to be highly sensitive to personal privacy when working from home”.
Houghton said: “Subjecting workers to high levels of monitoring and surveillance should be avoided. Intrusive workplace surveillance damages trust, has a negative impact on morale and can create heightened stress and anxiety for workers.”
PwC said in a statement: “We are developing technology specifically to support the compliance environment required for traders and front office staff in financial institutions. Crucially it is designed to support those adhering to the regulations while remote working, in the least intrusive, pragmatic way.
“Trading is highly regulated and there are strict requirements for traders in the workplace – for example secure trading floors without access to personal mobile phones. Regulators have stated that remote working results in a change in risk and requires additional controls and mitigations.
“The technology we are developing can be calibrated to banks and individuals’ own needs and working hours. We have also recommended to interested parties that the voluntary consent of traders wanting to work from home is essential.”
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