Working From Home and Privacy

My organization is fairly new to working from home as a structural situation. Usually, fulltime employees can get one day per week working from home as a standard benefit, if possible, but with the COVID-19 pandemic, everybody is working from home all at once. So, many of us are figuring out a new way of working, using more of the tools that we’ve always had but never used. However, I’m also noticing colleagues suddenly going overboard with it.

The university I work at, like most places, has bought a license to an office suite software set, which in our case is Office 365. It works out quite well now, since it offers a full web-interface of all its products, so all of us employees can still work with the exact same programs and files that we do at the office, as it’s all there still. We also have access to Teams for meetings, which works well for small groups. This, however, is also where my concern comes in.

I’ve noticed that ever since we started using teams, colleagues are just immediately pressing the record button. The first time I saw this, it irked me. I wasn’t exactly sure why, but it felt off. I took some time to consider whether this could’ve just been a pet peeve, a minor gripe, or an objection that I needed to do something with. What, really, is wrong with recording everything? My colleagues argue that it’s convenient: just press record, it saves it on the cloud, and everybody can find the file, and we’re done! I had to wonder though: done with what? Why record? What was even the purpose?

Now, legally, this is all fine. The software automatically pops up the message that you’re being recorded, and as it turns out, that’s completely acceptable in the Netherlands as long as it’s very explicit. In a general setting you’re allowed to record things, as long as it’s clear that you’re doing so—in essence, that law allows people to take selfies in the street. In the workplace, you’re allowed to record things, because that’s just sometimes practical. There are some situations that you’d want a visual record, such as an oral examination. And apparently, in the Netherlands, you can even secretly record people, to gather evidence for later judicial proceedings, for instance. The crucial thing is that you’re just not allowed to publish anything you record without any consideration.

Was I just being silly, then, being uncomfortable with all these recordings? I mean, for once, I totally have that pet peeve where I prefer to protect my privacy from this constant slippery slope we are on. I don’t use Facebook anymore, I migrated away from my Google e-mail, and so on. That, certainly, is my pet peeve in this. How can I know how long the servers store the recordings? Where it’s copied within Microsoft for some kind of “quality assurance reason”? How about how frequently the news reports that some company flagrantly flaunted its disregard of privacy and used media from its customers for its own purposes? Let alone any colleague could download these videos, and then all control is lost.

So, I know that’s pretty much my pet peeve. I think privacy is important, and so should ethics be in our daily lives. I know that’s mostly just me, and that likely nothing bad will really happen to me based on these videos. Let alone the fact that most of these are awfully dull discussions of bureaucratic processes and fine-tuning administration, and so on. Still, I think it’s important to be aware of these issues, and not just ignore them.

Yesterday, though, I ran into the problem that was niggling in the back of my head. I had to skip one meeting in favor of another (ironically, a Data Protection Council meeting), which I felt bad about because it would have been an important informating-sharing moment. So, I figured to go back and check the minutes. Much to my surprise, I could not find minutes, but instead there was a recording of the entire two-hour meeting available. So, instead of just having to take a couple of minutes reading through meeting minutes to get updated, I was implictly being asked to watch a two-hour video to get the same information.

Really, though, that’s not that much of an argument to avoid recordings altogether, because minutes should just have been taken anyway. I’m still left with a bit of a quandary. How do I approach this issue? Do I just grin and bear it? Should I make it an issue every time somebody just carelessly presses the record button? Should I leave these meetings in protest? I still don’t know, and it still doesn’t feel right for people to just record everything. After all, I wouldn’t train a videocamera on them during any other physical meeting in real life either, would I?

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