Will brainwave data from earpods be used for workplace surveillance?

By February 2, 2023 Government, Technology

We came across the following post in a Telegram channel, which contained a clip four-and-a-half minutes in length.

The post discusses the World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting, informally called ‘Davos’ after the town where the Forum customarily holds its gatherings.

The post alleges that a speaker at the Forum ‘explained how brain-wave data collected by your ear pods will be used by your boss to make you “more productive” and help government authorities “fight crime”’ in a panel titled ‘Are you ready for brain transparency?’.

The author of the post appears to suggest that the conference footage is proof that using brainwave data to monitor productivity and investigate crime is a smokescreen for workplace and government surveillance.

An animated video shown to the conference audience by the panel speaker features what seems to serve as the evidence for proof of brain-wave surveillance for the author.

The animated video describes a scenario where an office worker wearing ear pods that monitor brainwaves is at risk of being unjustly implicated in a co-worker’s wire fraud criminal investigation on account of ‘synchronised brain activity’.

A Lengthy Conversation Cut Short

When we investigated the origins of the video in the post, we found that it was indeed a section of a panel that had taken place at Davos on 19 January. The panel discussed advancements in neurotechnology and, coupled with artificial intelligence, the implications that could result for data privacy and personal freedom.

Upon viewing the full panel, it becomes evident that significant sections of the original video, which is slightly over half an hour long, were cut from the version circulating on Telegram.

In the uncut version, Nita Farahany, a scholar on the ethical implications of emerging technologies at Duke Law School, shows the animated video to the audience to make the point that the technology for such a dystopian future already exists, and that we are at a critical juncture in determining its applications.

However, she argues against the use of brainwave monitoring technology for surveillance purposes, instead favouring its use for employee wellbeing and in personal productivity tools.

Farahany describes the development of wearable devices that measure brain activity akin to ‘fitbits for your brain’. She also points out that more than 5,000 companies across the world are already monitoring their employees’ brainwave activity monitored to test for their fatigue levels.

While Farahany views this as useful in jobs where alertness is vital for safety, she finds that technology used to monitor productivity of employees often invites resistance and undermines morale.

Farahany goes on to describe the latest invention of ‘ear pods’ that monitor if the wearer is paying attention. Combined with other forms of software and surveillance, she believes that monitoring of individuals can become ‘precise’.

Farahany argues that the best way forward for the use of such technology would be ‘putting it in the hands of employees’ enabling them to use it as a choice for their own focus and performance, rather than using brain metrics to make management decisions on job performance.

She suggests that a future where humans and technology work together would result in workplaces that are healthier.

Falsehoods Target the Forum, Again

As we have noted on multiple occasions previously, the WEF appears to be a magnet for conspiracy theories dealing with the theme of a ruling elite subjugating the working masses.

Davos, the WEF’s flagship event, appears to have accelerated the creation of new conspiracy theories linked to the WEF, such as the one above.

While it is not certain if the editing of the video was done for malicious purposes, the Telegram clip clearly presents an incomplete picture of the ideas discussed during the panel and it misrepresents the speaker’s views.

The sections of the panel used in the video simply represent one hypothetical scenario for the future of technology. Therefore, the claim that brainwave data will be used for workplace and government surveillance is false.

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