Teleperformance, one of the world’s largest companies offering call-centre services to Big Tech companies such as Amazon and Apple, has asked some employees working from Colombia to accept a change to their contract to allow cameras operated by artificial intelligence in their homes by Andrea Monti – Initially published in Italian by Strategikon, an Italian Tech Blog.
The company has stated that it respects workers’ rights, and the reason for the choice to verify compliance with company rules and maintain adequate levels of security is not in itself inadmissible. Indeed, one might even say that it is necessary to do so because of the complex regulations on corporate liability and personal data protection to which a multinational company is subject.
Nevertheless, the widespread use of control technologies and the increasing delegation of operations to software with varying degrees of autonomy pose pretty serious questions beyond Teleperformance’s specific case and concern the use (in Italy) of proctoring software to control university students’ exams remotely. The concern raised by the news of Teleperformance’s new contractual conditions is the invasion of family and personal space caused by the disappearance of the wall dividing the workplace from private life. However, this is not the only problem.
Every Western country (more or less) has a law protecting people’s dignity. Therefore situations (which are not new) can be managed within what each country allows. If it is necessary (in Italy, it is forbidden) to inform the worker or obtain his consent to be supervised, no harm done: the human resources department will prepare the change to the contract and communicate the new conditions. If the rules are different elsewhere, the company will comply. Mission accomplished. However, the question arises as to whether formal compliance with the law is sufficient to guarantee a person’s dignity, even more than their rights.
When the need to survive prevails over rights, the person that receives the proposal, which includes (as in this case) substantial invasions of family space, signs without reading the small print. It means, in other words, that companies may find it more advantageous to outsource production processes and services to countries where there is a higher propensity to accept more onerous conditions. Therefore, it is possible to exercise more pervasive control than is permitted in the First World and replicate Fordist-style assembly-line surveillance. It may be old-fashioned to use such categories, but it is hard to avoid the state of affairs.
We face a different situation from that typical of relations with less developed countries, where principals increase their profits by taking advantage of the absence of rules or controls. Instead, the issue at stake is the loss of meaning of the law itself, favouring economic necessity or individual satisfaction. We are faced, in other words, with a change brought about by information technology that manifests itself in allowing Big Tech and its supply chain to reduce the law, and hence rights, to little more than a few phrases that “do the right thing” on paper but deny the humanity of the person with whom they are dealing.
Nothing different, however, from what is happening with the privacy of individuals, whose protection is entrusted to a few banners or a few clicks, or with the freedom of expression subjected by large platforms to automated controls, deletion of posts or closure of accounts every time some behaviour is considered, who knows by whom, inappropriate.
The crisis of rights, which has been going on for years, is thus accompanied by the crisis of law. This latter is not anymore an instrument that should have guaranteed and enforced individual’s rights.
And all this happens in the deafening silence of politics.