Like millions of women, Diana Diller was a devoted user of the pregnancy-tracking app Ovia, logging in every night to record new details on a screen asking about her bodily functions, sex drive, medications and mood. When she gave birth last spring, she used the app to chart her baby’s first online medical data — including her name, her location and whether there had been any complications — before leaving the hospital’s recovery room.
But someone else was regularly checking in, too: her employer, which paid to gain access to the intimate details of its workers’ personal lives, from their trying-to-conceive months to early motherhood.
Her employer is Activision Blizzard, which offers its own health insurance, in case you wanted to know why an employer could possibly want to track workers’ menstruation. And though pregnancy is the focus of this article, because the Ovia app and its oversharing are the article’s subject, it isn’t the only area in which employers like to pry:
In 2014, when the company rolled out incentives for workers who tracked their physical activity with a Fitbit, some employees voiced concerns over what they called a privacy-infringing overreach. But as the company offered more health tracking — including for mental health, sleep, diet, autism and cancer care — [corporate minion Mike] Ezzard said workers grew more comfortable with the trade-off and enticed by the financial benefits.
“Each time we introduced something, there was a bit of an outcry: ‘You’re prying into our lives,’ ” Ezzard said. “But we slowly increased the sensitivity of stuff, and eventually people understood it’s all voluntary, there’s no gun to your head, and we’re going to reward you if you choose to do it.”
“People’s sensitivity,” he added, “has gone from, ‘Hey, Activision Blizzard is Big Brother,’ to, ‘Hey, Activision Blizzard really is bringing me tools that can help me out.’ ”
Why am I suddenly thinking about a frog in a pot of water?
And don’t get me started about the “voluntary” thing. The last time I chose not to “voluntarily” disclose information that corporate wanted to collect, I had three different managers come by and “ask” me to reconsider.
Experts worry that companies could use the data to bump up the cost or scale back the coverage of health-care benefits, or that women’s intimate information could be exposed in data breaches or security risks. And though the data is made anonymous, experts also fear that the companies could identify women based on information relayed in confidence, particularly in workplaces where few women are pregnant at any given time.
Or if the employee is trying to get pregnant, maybe they don’t get that promotion, because they might need some time off next year.
And even given the size of Activision Blizzard’s workforce – somewhere around 10,000 – how hard is it to deanonymize someone with this much personal data? Assuming, of course, that Ovia is both scrupulous and competent about deanonymization, which is less likely than the end users should be comfortable with, even if the boss is giving them $1 a day in gift cards to use the app.
(…which makes deanonymization even easier – instead of trying to figure out which woman in their workforce has a high-risk pregnancy, they can narrow it down to those women who signed up for the gift cards. Sneaky, sneaky Activision.)
The mental-health tracking almost makes sense, at least in an industry that regularly drives its workers to the breaking point, but even that, looked at in the most charitable possible way, is a band-aid over a problem that employers created for themselves and inflicted on their workers.
And the rest of it is really none of a boss’ business. From the employer’s perspective, they’re controlling costs, but from the worker’s perspective, they’re expected to submit their bodies and their entire lives, not just their labor for however many hours per week they’re paid for, to someone else’s control and for someone else’s benefit. Someone who feels no loyalty, gratitude, or compassion toward them. Someone who can and probably would screw them over for the sake of maximized efficiency. Someone who shouldn’t be trusted.
Someone who’s, somehow, still trusted.
“Maybe I’m naive, but I thought of it as positive reinforcement: They’re trying to help me take care of myself,” said Diller…
P.S. Yes, Activision is an almost cartoonishly evil corporation. No, they aren’t the only ones who collect this sort of information. Take Cianbro, for instance:
Via The Daily Beast.