Blog

Workers taking control of our own data

Andrew Pakes · 7 July 2020

One of the hallmarks of COVID-19 has been the acceleration of interest in new workplace technology. Digital monitoring and data gathering by employers has been growing at pace over the past few years and that trend has continued during lockdown.

The workplace is a critical arena for testing the relationship between digital transformation and workers’ rights.

Just look at some of the headlines during lockdown:

This is a fast-changing world. Our own research at Prospect shows that most workers are unsure what data is currently collected about them by employers.

That is why Prospect has been working with a coalition of unions, tech specialists and researchers to develop new approaches to how we take control of our own data. Today sees the launch of the beta version of one of those ideas – the WeClock app.

WeClock is a new app for Android and iOS, including Apple Watch, that is free and has been developed to help workers track and manage their own data. The app is available at https://weclock.it

As, Dr Christina Colclough, one of the leads on the app says: “Workers do not have the tools they need to make the case for improved work conditions using data.

View the ‘WeClock for Trade Unions’ Onboarding Kit

So, what can the app do?

Prospect helped test the app in earlier stages of its development. It is like a FitBit app for workers except all of the data is owned on the app and only shared with the explicit consent of users involved.

The app can measure any of the data that a smart phone can detect. So, for example, location data, use of apps and movements.

How does this help union campaigns? Well, for a start it allows us to build our own data profiles. As part of campaigns, it can allow workers to measure how long they are commuting for, what distance they travel at work and when they are doing work on their phone, say late at night or the travel into work.

Imagine how this could help provide data on how much unpaid overtime workers are doing, or how it could paint a picture of the pressure people feel to answer or check emails late at night.

The app provides workers and unions with data that is not owned, controlled or taken by any third party. WeClock was designed as an open-source collaborative effort between unions, technologists, researchers, and workers themselves.

Through our initial test of WeClock we have been impressed with what it can do. We are still learning, alongside union friends across the world, how data is changing work and how apps like this can build evidence in support of worker campaigns. But it is precisely the kind of innovation unions need to be looking at as we face an ever-changing future of work.

How trade unions use and handle data

Prospect is also launching a new tool to help trade unions think about have they use and handle data in their projects. The Lighthouse tool​ uses a quiz format to help trade union staff and leaders understand more about data oversight and risk to become more responsible stewards of data.

Over the coming months we will be looking at how GDPR, data and the future of work fit together, and how we can provide tools to support branches and members as we seek to ensure that workers are central to how our data is collected, used and managed at work.

Andrew Pakes is director of research, communications and organising at Prospect


Future of work, technology and data

Campaigning for better rights for workers over use of their data by employers