‘Yes, I Need Help:’ Woman’s Moving Mouse Hack Sparks Debate On Worker’s Privacy Rights While WFH

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, working from home was reserved for the sick, elite, or self-employed. Fast forward to 2021 and WFH has become the new norm. And with new norms come new hacks for making our work lives easier. One TikTok user shared her hack for keeping pestering supervisors off her back while working from home. 

While some fellow WFH-ers were appreciative of the trick, others were concerned that it was even necessary. As one user commented, “say you live in America without saying you live in America.”

Going To The Bathroom Free From Paranoia

One reoccurring theme with employers quickly setting up WFH policies concerns tracking how productive employees really are from the privacy of their own homes. While some take extreme measures like installing surveillance software, others simply rely on that ‘active’ status indicating someone is online. Yet the latter can present its own unique set of issues, one for which TikTok user Leah Ova has developed a solution to address.

“If you carry your laptop around with you because you’re so paranoid that [in] the 30 minutes you spend away from your desk, your computer will go to ‘away,’ and you will be fired because no one will think you’re doing any work, I have something to recommend,” Ova said. 

She then pans the camera down to reveal a small, sleek gadget she called a “mouse-mover.” Her Apple mouse sits on top of the gadget, swerving left to right. 

“It’s called a mouse mover, and it moves your mouse while you’re away,” Ova explained. “So, you can go to the bathroom free from paranoia. Yes, I need help.” But other users quickly pointed out it isn’t help she needs—it’s something else entirely.

The American Workplace Experience

Most users didn’t think Ova needed help. Rather, they thought she needed a new job, therapy, boundaries, or all three. 

“What kind of company are you working for to be afraid [of being] fired because of 30 minutes?” One TikTok user commented. “If people are micromanaging you like that, then you need a new job,” another user added. 

However, hundreds appreciated the advice and said that they planned on buying a mouse mover, too. Hundreds more offered DIY alternatives to a new gadget. 

Some WFH hacks included technical tricks, like Caffeine, or adjusting your computer’s sleep settings. Other tricks were more creative. “The nail polish bottle on the shift key has worked wonders for me,” one user wrote. 

The online response to Ova proves that while this is a common issue, that doesn’t make it any less troubling. “Tell me you have no labor laws without telling me you have no labor laws,” one user commented. Another added, “is America ok?”

WFH Rights Are Slim To None

Unfortunately, the answer is no, America isn’t okay. When it comes to monitoring, American workers have little to no say in the matter. As the Washington Post reported in August 2021, employers are more equipped than ever to spy on their workers. 

Among other things, US employers can access how often you type, your webcam, which sites you visit, and your emails. What was once a novelty is now the norm. 

When the pandemic first began, “30 percent of large employers adopted employee-tracking software for the first time,” chief of HR for Gartner, Brian Kropp, told the Washington Post. “Now, 60 percent use it in general.” 

Common software includes Teramind, Hubstaff, ActivTrak, TimeCamp, and Interguard. There are minor differences between software, but some of the most common capabilities are also the most concerning. 

For example, Teramind can collect data from your computer’s microphone and speakers. This includes ambient noise from your home office and whoever is at home with you.

That same software can browse employee emails for profanity or other red flags. It can also search social media for negative posts and track visits to job search sites. 

If you’re wondering about employee privacy rights, don’t worry—there aren’t many. “In general, you have very, very, very light protections, if any, for employee privacy,” Emory Roane, privacy counsel at Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, explained to the Washington Post

So, what can you do if you don’t want to be monitored? Quit. “You can say no to the job,” Roane said. “But you probably can’t say no to that [data] collection.”

Another Way To Burn Out

Overworked woman sitting in front of a laptop screen and rubbing her eyes.
(fizkes/Shutterstock.com)

To the business execs using these strategies, their monitoring is justified. When the pandemic forced businesses to go remote, many worried about a drop in productivity. 

This drop, however, was more of a hypothetical fear than a harsh reality. In fact, Mercer surveyed nearly 800 employers in August 2020. The survey found that 94 percent of employers said productivity remained the same or improved since WFH began. 

Productivity might not have dropped, but morale certainly has. Forbes reported in December that employer monitoring only intensifies feelings of isolation in remote workers. 

Moreover, an ExpressVPN study found that 56% of remote workers felt stress and anxiety due to constant monitoring. 41% spent their entire workday wondering if their employer was watching them. 

Unsurprisingly, this doesn’t create a very pleasant work environment. America is already experiencing a wave of worker dissatisfaction in the form of The Great Resignation. Monitoring will only make the problem worse before it gets better. 

Motivated and happy employees don’t require constant watching to do their work. Only overworked, underpaid, and mistreated ones do. And we’re going to need a little bit more than a mouse-mover to solve that problem.

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