Remote work has enabled businesses to weather the storm of the pandemic and adapt to new work environments while keeping business going. Yet, with employees now working remotely, the line between personal and professional data has been blurred and that comes with significant risk.
While companies focus on matching productivity and collaboration to that of office times, they can lose focus on the growing concern of data surveillance and misuse. Thanks to GDPR and CCPA regulations, businesses are now held to more stringent standards when it comes to collecting and handling data. However with the pandemic to distract focus, the number of data breaches continues to grow and businesses continue to ignore potential vulnerabilities.
Adding complexity to the issue, remote work has expanded data surveillance capacity by allowing third parties to gather data not only from our business applications, laptops, and phones, but also from our smart home devices including smart TVs, home hubs, and even smart refrigerators. For homes with these smart devices, this monitoring has grown to such an extent that almost every aspect of our work and personal lives has been touched by surveillance, yet still many businesses are unaware of how damaging it can be for business.
What Remote Work Means for Security
In an office setting, standard security measures ensure a private and safe environment for critical business and customer data. For example, company-issued computers and phones are set up on secure private networks, which helps the business remain in control of data use.
However, with so much business operating in remote environments, all of this has changed. You now have employees using their own personal WiFi networks, or even free WiFi at a cafe or library. You also have company hardware such as laptops and phones that are not as closely monitored now and could be used outside of working hours for personal use. All these new changes pose serious security risks that most companies are aware of and actively working to fix.Yet, what many businesses have failed to recognize is just how vulnerable their business data has become because of data surveillance.
With new office spaces also doubling as homes, technology has more access to not only personal, but professional data. Due to an increased presence in the home, companies have a better understanding of you through data surveillance than they ever have before, and that can span surveillance through cameras, audio, and even business software tools without your knowledge. This is known as sensory surveillance.
For example, many of us own smart home security systems that use cameras to help keep us safe and make our lives easier. At the same time, this technology is collecting data that’s being processed on the cloud and stored somewhere we’re unable to access it.
Sensory surveillance continues with audio: Most electronic devices such as our phones, TVs, and more all have microphones embedded that, in order to improve performance, listen to and record us, using that data to market to our shopping or search needs, or even just profit from selling that data to other companies.
One way to think about sensory surveillance is to remember that your data is yours and when a third party takes your data without your knowledge, it’s stealing.
Data surveillance goes beyond home devices and is starting to be commonly found in business software, leaving businesses unaware of the growing surveillance happening within their work tools. Adjunct surveillance, which is commonly found in business software, monitors activity and data through third-parties, cookies, and trackers embedded into the software to monitor and gather user data.
This makes it important for companies that have gone remote and that are using remote software tools to monitor employee productivity and remain aware of the potential impact of additional surveillance. More so, several popular video conferencing and communication tools have hidden privacy contracts that reveal they’re collecting and analyzing data, yet fail to explain what they’re doing with that data.
Even if they’re not selling your data to third parties, how can businesses rest assured that their private data is being stored securely?
This year has already proven that data is at additional risk due to the soaring numbers of data breaches among tech giants, healthcare companies, and more. The question now is how can businesses protect themselves from data surveillance when they can’t control or even know how far the adjunct surveillance has gone?
What You Can Do to Combat Data Surveillance
While you can’t expect your employees to get rid of their smart home devices, you can make sure that the business software tools you’re using are transparent and clear about their data privacy policies. When you take the time to read the fine print, you may find that some of the most popular tools have very aggressive data collection practices that may not match your companies’ values. Especially if your business deals with sensitive data.
Another important practice to combat data surveillance is to make sure the software you’re using doesn’t sell your business data to third parties. Additionally, you’ll want to enact policies to strengthen your remote work security such as using encryption to block unauthorized user access and make sure that important company information doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.
Unfortunately, most tools don’t make these privacy policies very easy to understand, which means that businesses must take it upon themselves to do the research and determine if the technologies they use protect their data or misuse it. As more privacy issues and data malpractices come to light, governments are setting stricter laws and higher regulations which will help, but it isn’t enough.
Along with reading the fine print, educating your employees, and enacting strong security measures, businesses must fight for more transparency and open discourse about how data is being collected and for what purpose. It’s important to recognize that data may need to be collected in some purposes for technology to work effectively, but that data should be borrowed and never owned by another company.
Through education and a focus on eliminating sneaky data surveillance through strong privacy practices, businesses and employees can keep their information safe and limit the eyes and ears technology has on our homes and businesses, before it’s too late.