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Smart Cushions Take Data Collection to Controversial Extremes in China

Touted as health monitors, smart cushions were instead used to track how long employees were away from their desks or not working.

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Data collection, analytics and the Internet of Things are crucial pieces of business intelligence these days, with every piece of information being used to help leaders make better decisions for themselves, their companies and their customers.

Sometimes, though, the collection of data can go into dangerous places. I’ve written in the past about MLB’s plan to use biometrics to allow fans to enter ballparks and my opposition to giving my fingerprint or eyeball when a simple ticket will do.

Now there’s another IoT-related controversy brewing in China:

A technology company in eastern China designed “smart” cushions and gave them to its employees for their office chairs as part of a product study.

The cushions were supposed to monitor their health, note bad posture as a sign of possible fatigue, measure heart rates and tally minutes spent at work stations.

But when the company’s human resources manager began inquiring about employees’ long breaks and early departures from work, it soon became clear that the cushions were also recording the last thing employees wanted their bosses to know: when they were absent from their desks, potentially spelling trouble for workers.

The episode at Health Boost IoT Technology Company has raised questions about privacy and transparency in the workplace, and set off an online debate about the boundaries of corporate surveillance. While government surveillance is pervasive in the country, residents also worry about unwanted monitoring from their employers.

 

I imagine this sort of practice would be harder to implement with so many workers these days doing so from the comfort of their living rooms.

Plus, it seems just slightly illegal or shady to track your employees’ activities under false pretenses of helping them improve their health.