Should Businesses Use AI to Spy On Their Staffers?

Some big corporate brands use AI to track employees’ conversations in the office and at their homes.

Intra-company digital communications tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams are wildly popular among workers. Slack currently has 65 million active users, which is about doubling its user base of 32 million in 2021. Meanwhile, Microsoft Teams has 320 million users, up from 140 million in 2021.

How many of those staffers know that, in many instances, their companies are checking in on those conversations?

That’s what companies like Walmart and Starbucks appear to be doing, using an AI-powered software scanner from Columbus, Ohio-based Aware.

Released in October 2023, Aware’s Generative AI Summaries tool “provides secure, trustworthy, and traceable insights from unstructured digital workplace conversations,” the company stated. “With Aware’s purpose-built platform, companies can unlock the power of Generative AI by delivering actionable and accurate business insights that bridge the gap between analysis and action.”

The company says its software is invaluable in keeping proprietary information in check. Apparently, it’s fairly easy for companies that use large language models to “lose control over their data” via internal communications channels like Slack, which exposes critical company information and intellectual property to digital fraudsters and even business competitors.

Is It Safeguarding or Snooping?

Aware’s software is all about accessing, tracking and analyzing data from employee online chats. The company’s “foundational ML models are narrowly trained on digital workplace conversations instead of public data sets, resulting in curated models that are smaller, more accurate, and highly cost-effective,” the company notes.

But is it snooping or something less onerous like listening to the 21st-century water cooler workplace conversations?

“A lot of this becomes thought crime,” Jutta Williams, co-founder of Humane Intelligence, referring to AI employee surveillance technology, told CBNC. “This is treating people like inventory in a way I’ve not seen.”

The technology bears watching as AI tracking tools grow more comprehensive (Aware claims to have analyzed 20 billion messages from over three million employees.)

Aware certainly doesn’t see things that way, not that data privacy guardrails are a built-in feature.

“The future of generative AI in the enterprise sits within targeted experiences designed to solve the use cases businesses care about most,” said Matt Pasternack, chief product officer at Aware. “Aware’s generative AI capabilities are embedded and airtight within our secure AI/ML Platform and allow teams to intentionally leverage generative AI, without fear of hallucinations or their data falling into the wrong hands.”

(With the Summaries AI tool), enterprise users can now condense weeks of analysis into actionable insights within minutes to solve use cases ranging from the employee experience and business operations to cybersecurity and GRC,” Pasternack said.

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