Major Corporations Use AI To Eavesdrop On Employee Messages

Fortune 500 companies are using advanced artificial intelligence (AI) services from a Columbus, Ohio-based startup to monitor employees’ messages and see what they think about corporate policies, marketing campaigns, and whatever else their bosses are interested in learning from the workers’ chat logs, according to a report this month by CNBC.

The financial and business news outlet said, “Cue the George Orwell reference,” in response to the story because it is so much like the “1984” novel Orwell published in the 1940s, predicting a future of mass surveillance over the general working populace by technocratic elites who wield big tech and propaganda to control what people think.

Gigantic U.S. employers like Walmart, Starbucks, T-Mobile, Chevron, and Delta Air Lines have hired Aware, a seven-year-old AI startup, to read through employees’ messages with their AI software and find information and insights to support these companies as they make managerial decisions about their company, product, and workforce.

In order for Aware to do its job for these Fortune 500 giants, they turn over the chat logs of thousands of employees on company Slack boards, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and other popular apps commonly used in workplaces to plan, organize, and collaborate. Employees most likely signed off on their company’s ownership of their work-related chat logs.

Jeff Schumann, co-founder and CEO of Aware, says his company’s AI software helps employers “understand the risk within their communications.” He touts the advantages of gauging employee sentiment about the company in real time over waiting a year or six months for an annual survey.

The startup’s analytics product anonymizes employee data and then delivers insights based on Aware’s AI models. It can show employers how employees within specific demographics respond to any given topic by age group or geographical cluster. The firm’s AI models can also identify bullying, harassment, obscene content, discrimination, and non-compliance.

Not everyone thinks snooping through employee messages is such a good idea. Jutta Williams — co-founder of AI accountability nonprofit Humane Intelligence — speaking broadly about corporations using AI, told CNBC, “A lot of this becomes thought crime. This is treating people like inventory in a way I’ve not seen.”