Colombia-based call center workers who provide outsourced customer service to some of the nation’s largest companies are being pressured to sign a contract that lets their employer install cameras in their homes to monitor work performance, an NBC News investigation has found.
Six workers based in Colombia for Teleperformance, one of the world’s largest call center companies, which counts Apple, Amazon and Uber among its clients, said that they are concerned about the new contract, first issued in March. The contract allows monitoring by AI-powered cameras in workers’ homes, voice analytics and storage of data collected from the worker’s family members, including minors. Teleperformance employs more than 380,000 workers globally, including 39,000 workers in Colombia.
“The contract allows constant monitoring of what we are doing, but also our family,” said a Bogota-based worker on the Apple account who was not authorized to speak to the news media. “I think it’s really bad. We don’t work in an office. I work in my bedroom. I don’t want to have a camera in my bedroom.”
The worker said that she signed the contract, a copy of which NBC News has reviewed, because she feared losing her job. She said that she was told by her supervisor that she would be moved off the Apple account if she refused to sign the document. She said the additional surveillance technology has not yet been installed.
The concerns of the workers, who all spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media, highlight a pandemic-related trend that has alarmed privacy and labor experts: As many workers have shifted to performing their duties at home, some companies are pushing for increasing levels of digital monitoring of their staff in an effort to recreate the oversight of the office at home.
The issue is not isolated to Teleperformance’s workers in Colombia. The company states on its website that it offers similar monitoring through its TP Cloud Campus product, the software it uses to enable staff to work remotely in more than 19 markets. An official Teleperformance promotional video for TP Cloud Campus from January 2021 describes how it uses “AI to monitor clean desk policy and fraud” among its remote workers by analyzing camera feeds. And in its latest earnings statement, released in June, Teleperformance said it has shifted 240,000 of its approximately 380,000 employees to working from home thanks to the TP Cloud Campus product.
At the end of 2020, workers at Teleperformance in Albania, including those working on the Apple U.K. account, complained to the country’s Information and Data Protection Commissioner about the company’s proposal to introduce video monitoring in their homes. The commissioner later ruled that Teleperformance could not use webcams to monitor Albanian workers in their homes.
“Surveillance at home has really been normalized in the context of the pandemic,” said Veena Dubal, a labor law professor at the University of California, Hastings. “Companies see a lot of benefit in putting in software to do all kinds of monitoring they would have otherwise expected their human managers to do, but the reality is that it’s much more intrusive than surveillance conducted by a boss.”
Teleperformance spokesman Mark Pfeiffer said that the company is “constantly looking for ways to enhance the Teleperformance Colombia experience for both our employees and our customers, with privacy and respect as key factors in everything we do.”
“We are committed to fair practices, equality, inclusion, diversity, non-discrimination, labor sustainability, ethics, and transparency,” Pfeiffer said, “and we will continue to do everything we can to uphold these values for both our teams and all our key stakeholders.”