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Author Topic: Surveliance: I need lawyer help
Everard
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This came up in one of the NSA threads, but because suddenly this is very apropos of my life, I thought I'd start a new thread asking for an expert opinion [Smile]

Someone said in another thread that a company viewing its security video off-site is illegal.

Today at work one of my shift supervisors said that the store manager has a direct feed from the security cameras at the store to his laptop, which he uses to keep an eye on the store from home.

If this is true, is it legal?

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Funean
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Good question. I'd like to know, too, because I recently had a "loss prevention" firm pitch me an internal security camera system that could feed to your central system, your home pc, your laptop while on vacation, etc. I don't know whether live-time feed, subsequent storage on an off-site machine, and/or videotape/film are all considered different scenarios, either.

I thought they were skeevy and declined their service, but if I'd taken it to the next level these are all questions I'd have needed answered.

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The Drake
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Curious situation, and I'm not an expert.

I would say this - why care if it is illegal? You won't feel better about it just because it is legal. Tell your manager you don't like it. If he/she won't stop, seek other employment.

I know I would.

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Everard
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I'm already seeking other employment [Smile] I become certified to teach in massachusetts sometime next month. I've got 34 job applications out right now. Unfortunately, the hiring process happens in june, for the most part, so I haven't quit just yet.

No, I won't feel better about the surveliance. But, (as you may have noticed in general about my personality) I get pissed when rules are broken. I try my hardest to play fair (and do a much better job of it in real life then I do here, largely because I am a push-over in real life), and I expect others to do the same. If the rules have been broken at my expense, I always call the appropriate arbiter.

In this situation, if its illegal, I'd go to an intermediate level supervisor, and ask him to accompany me to see the manager. I'd tell him I'd discovered what he was doing, and that to the best of my knowledge it broke the law. I'd tell him that if he doesn't stop immediately, I'd call the police.

If it is legal, then I'd make certain to make innapropriate gestures in the direction of teh cameras as often as possible [Smile]

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Paladine
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I have no idea why it would be illegal for a manager to watch his employees while said employees are on his time.
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Everard
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Because if you do so for non-business purposes, its voyeurism. To protect against voyeurism, security footage must be viewed on company grounds, on company time, as far as I am aware.
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The Drake
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Congratulations, Ev, on starting your profession. I suspect you will become a much happier camper - I know I was when I went from "making money" to "doing my life's work".

I can't blame you for being pissed when rules are broken. I don't even like it when people change lanes without signaling intent or going into the 10 items lane with 13 items. So you can imagine how I get when someone breaks the rules and it actually matters. [Smile]

I guess I learned to enforce the rules myself, or to play a different game. Not a better or worse way - just different. Appealing to authority just isn't in my nature. I personally feel like it belittles me to not handle it myself. And I get angry when I hear from a third party that someone has a problem with me. Like in college when a TA told me "someone" on the floor felt I was violating quiet hours.

I generally feel that people should make an attempt to resolve a situation directly before calling in a "higher power", even as I recognize their right to do so.

Of course, you'll have a better position in direct confrontation if you can claim your adversary is in violation of the law.

"You know, I could press charges...." generally precedes a winning argument. [Smile]

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Everard
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"I generally feel that people should make an attempt to resolve a situation directly before calling in a "higher power", even as I recognize their right to do so."

I tend to agree, but in a lot of situations where there is a higher power, the higher power is necessary to resolve disputes.

E.G my earlier situation at work. I could have gone directly to my manager with my complaints. I would have been fired about three days later, because my manager holds grudges (as I found out this week. I had to change my supervisor on my resume to my shift leader, rather then my department manager). By holding a meeting both with my superior, and HIS superior, I was able to avoid most of the retribution in my manager's power to dispense. (Such as being fired).

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The Drake
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Delicate handling, my friend. You have to roll in non-confrontationally. Something like, "Say, I heard you watch the store on your laptop from home. How is that working for you?" Or act interested in the technology - "Wow, I wish my laptop did streaming video - can you record it too?"

Then you get to find out if they go defensive, or if they are open and say something like, "Well, I really don't check in often, just late at night for security."

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Dagonee
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If whoever posted that claim could cite any source, I might be able to do a little research to debunk or prove that claim. Without that, it's a lot of research to determine categorically that such a practice is legal.

Without a specific law or regulation to cite, I would hesitate bringing that up to the manager, anyway.

Quick question: is there a union? If so, the contract will likely give information.

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Gaoics79
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quote:

In this situation, if its illegal, I'd go to an intermediate level supervisor, and ask him to accompany me to see the manager. I'd tell him I'd discovered what he was doing, and that to the best of my knowledge it broke the law. I'd tell him that if he doesn't stop immediately, I'd call the police.

Ev, I'm a little puzzled by this entire thread. I am trying to think very hard for a reason why the practice you describe should not be legal, and I'm coming up blank. I may not have paid a huge amount of attention in the privacy law seminar I took a few years back in law school (it was three hours, from 7:00-10:00 every wednesday night, and the clock was permenently stuck on 7:03, which I think was because it died of boredom) but I don't see the significance between being watched by your boss on the job (when you have no reasonable expectation of privacy) while he is at work (which we know is definitely legal) versus being watched on the job by your boss while he is at home.

This "voyeurism" argument of yours is pretty strange, frankly. Firstly, I find it a little bizarre that you think your boss would get a voyeuristic thrill out of watching employees do their jobs, unless you work at a brothel or a strip club, or teachers are boffing each other in the teacher's lounge (I always suspected something fishy was going on in there when I was in school)

But even if he was a voyeur, he really could be just as much a voyeur from his office at work, as from his office at home... I fail to see the huge difference.

But the legality of what he is doing is hardly the point. The real question is why you're ready to go hysterical and threaten to call the police over something like this. Suppose it isn't legal, for whatever reason. Are you going to go ballistic every time someone around you breaks some piddling regulation? Besides damaging your career, I suspect this kind of disposition is liable to damage your health. People who get angry all the time everytime someone breaks a rule don't tend to live very long...

Before I run to the boss screaming about calling the police, I'd ask myself what actual effect this violation (if it is even against the law, which I doubt) has on my life.

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Dagonee
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There's another point here: even if it is illegal, it's not necessarily a crime, so the police might not be the appropriate authority.
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Paladine
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What Jason said.
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Rallan
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JasonR's right. If you're doing nothing wrong then you shouldn't have any objections about your employer putting you under constant surveillance. I bet you're probably the sort of commie pinko weirdo who doesn't like employers who make everyone do random drug tests or ask about your political affiliatons during the job interview either!

Also in breaking news: We are at war with Earasia. We have always been at war with Earasia.

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Paladine
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Yeah, exactly Rallan. It's not like people have the right to record what goes on in their place of business. And really, wanting to watch what people do while they're on your time is the same thing as prying into their lives outside of work (politics, recreational activities).

Being snarky's fine, but try using analogies that actually, you know, make sense.

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Rallan
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Sure employers have a right to make sure the staff aren't stealing everything that isn't nailed down or being rude to the customers or whatever Paladine, but I don't think we as employees should just idly stand by while employers use more efficient workplace management and security as an excuse to intrusively monitor every aspect of the employee's working day and personal habits. It's in the best interests of both workers and bosses to come together and find practical, acceptable solutions to the problems of security and monitoring employee progress, rather than encouraging employers to unilaterally adopt one-sided policies without any respect for the personal space and privacy of their staff.
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RickyB
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OK, both sides settle down. Yes, it is puzzling that there should be a problem, but also yes, there is a concern of voyeurism, and of turning workplaces into toxically stultifying places.

People should not have to work as though someone is watching over their shoulders at all times. They should be able to communicate with their colleagues in a way they would not in the presence of senior management/owners.

So some sort of tolerable median has to be found, and that is usually in allowing cameras only where truly, demonstrably needed. You don't put them in the cafeteria, for instance, and you try at all costs to refrain from recording sound, so you can see if a guy's stealing or even goofing off, but not of he muttered something about the owner or department manager being a parent-fornicator.

I personally don't like the access restrictions. I think Voyeurism can be practiced on company grounds as well, so that's an ineffective barrier to boot. I'd rather restrict where the cameras can be than where the owners or anyone they authorize can view them from.

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halfhaggis
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If your employer watching you work off-site is getting you uptight, what will starring in a reality TV show against your will do for your stress levels?

The full article:
CCTV channel beamed to your home

And a little snippet from the article:
quote:
In the world of boundary-pushing television, it was surpassed yesterday by a group of Eastenders who have become the first to monitor their own neighbourhood via a home CCTV channel.

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Storm Saxon
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"I am Big Brother."

"No, I am Big Brother."

"No, I am Big Brother!"

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RickyB
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"You are all individuals!"
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Funean
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quote:
I'd rather restrict where the cameras can be than where the owners or anyone they authorize can view them from.
Exactly. Who cares whether the owner's in his office or his living room? What matters is whether he's watching you man the cash drawers or scratch your bum in the break room.
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LoverOfJoy
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When I worked at a call center my supervisor would occasionally listen to my calls (sometimes unannounced) as was his job. I later found out that he sometimes did it at home (apparently they set it up so he could do that...I don't know how). It didn't bother me even though he was homosexual who said he just LOVED listening to my voice. That was his job and what did I care where he did it? I suppose it's possible that he would record it at home but then it's also possible he would record it at work and then bring it home.

Now if they set up cameras in the bathroom stalls, you can bet I'd raise a ruccus but recording my conversations is part of my supervisors job.

If my supervisor developed some extreme allergy or contagious disease the company would probably be required to make accomodations so he could do his job at home (or some other private place). I took a class in college where the teacher had some medical condition that required her to stay away from perfumes, scented deodorants, etc. and she basically video conferenced classes from her office and they were thinking of setting it up at her home if her condition got worse. Unless you know or have reason to suspect he's doing something besides what he is supposed to be doing at work then I don't see why it should be illegal. Perhaps they have laws about not keeping a copy of the recording. *shrug*

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The Drake
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I've had varying degrees of security in the high tech world, all centered around loss prevention. They largely were limited to doorways, elevators, and corridors. But most of them could have been pointed toward cubicles (they are generally the opaque dome type).

I can tell you that the first time a manager said something about my showing up late because he saw it on the video camera, that would be the last day I worked there.

Likewise with an employer discussing my recent web habits, keyboard rates, telephone calls, keycard use, etc. I know they have access to all of this information, and it doesn't trouble me. Because I know I'd bounce out of there in a heartbeat, and poison their ability to recruit my replacement by spreading that story far and wide.

But that doesn't mean they should be barred from doing any of those things.

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Rallan
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Problem though Drake is that an awful lot of people who don't particularly like the level of surveillance in the workplace aren't necessarily in a position to let their feet do the talking and move to another equally good job. And in some cases (urine tests for drugs for exaple, or the rather more ethically shady realm of keeping tabs on employee emails without actually informing employees you've got the ability to do so), the invasive monitoring techniques of employers have become almost ubiquitious in some fields.
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Paladine
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quote:
It's in the best interests of both workers and bosses to come together and find practical, acceptable solutions to the problems of security and monitoring employee progress, rather than encouraging employers to unilaterally adopt one-sided policies without any respect for the personal space and privacy of their staff.
This is my point. You don't have the right to "personal space" and "privacy" at MY establishment. Why exactly should I not be allowed to watch you doing something I'm paying you to do? This is really puzzling to me. Please be specific.

quote:
I can tell you that the first time a manager said something about my showing up late because he saw it on the video camera, that would be the last day I worked there.

Likewise with an employer discussing my recent web habits, keyboard rates, telephone calls, keycard use, etc. I know they have access to all of this information, and it doesn't trouble me. Because I know I'd bounce out of there in a heartbeat, and poison their ability to recruit my replacement by spreading that story far and wide

Drake....why? If your boss were to see you come in late when he's PAYING you to be there, I'm sure you wouldn't be ready to quit if he said something about it. Why is it so different if he doesn't happen to be in the room, but sees it through a camera?

Similarly, if you're spending all day on personal phone calls and internet activities that don't have anything to do with work, why shouldn't he bring that up with you?

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TomDavidson
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I suppose the issue is whether you're paying me to think or paying me for the use of my body.

Some jobs -- like low-end factory work, transcription, or food service -- really are just prostitution: you're paying someone to unthinkingly do repetitive, robotic actions over and over again. And in that environment, someone who comes in late and/or wastes keystrokes on the Web or whatever IS "stealing" from his or her employer, because his production is directly tied to how efficiently robotic he can be.

Even in these environments, though, employers are smart enough not to demand 100% efficiency; their workers are given quotas, and as long as they still meet their quotas -- by over-performing for some percentage of the time -- they can under-perform at others without risking their jobs.

I, however, am paid to think, and occasionally implement what I'm thinking about. A great deal of my productive thinking actually happens at home, on what is technically "my" time. Almost no element of my job demands robotic efficiency, and an employer who tried to demand it would almost certainly impair my ability to think at the level my job requires.

----

This issue, though, is still completely separate from the issue of surveillance. My dad, who's now the VPIT of a large produce concern in Chicago, has installed keyloggers on all the computers used by their phone sales staff -- so that they know exactly how the computers are being used, how fast orders are entered, and even how many time any given worker hits "backspace" or "delete" to correct a mistake.

I consider this an unacceptable invasion of a worker's privacy, and would never work in that environment. Clearly, the menial wage slaves he's chained to their computers are desperate enough to disagree.

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Paladine
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quote:
This issue, though, is still completely separate from the issue of surveillance. My dad, who's now the VPIT of a large produce concern in Chicago, has installed keyloggers on all the computers used by their phone sales staff -- so that they know exactly how the computers are being used, how fast orders are entered, and even how many time any given worker hits "backspace" or "delete" to correct a mistake.

I consider this an unacceptable invasion of a worker's privacy, and would never work in that environment. Clearly, the menial wage slaves he's chained to their computers are desperate enough to disagree.

Again: why do workers have this right to "privacy" in the commission of tasks for which they're compensated? Why shouldn't my employer know if I'm doing my job inefficiently (by whatever metric you care to use; I'm not talking about robotic precision)?
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TomDavidson
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I submit that there IS a distinction between tracking, say, the number of orders entered per hours and the number of times the "backspace" key is struck. And a further distinction between noting that and the number of times a Web browser is opened.

And only the first statistic, of all those statistics, is actually relevant to job performance.

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Paladine
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quote:
I submit that there IS a distinction between tracking, say, the number of orders entered per hours and the number of times the "backspace" key is struck. And a further distinction between noting that and the number of times a Web browser is opened.
What distinction might that be, from a privacy point of view? Moreover, the number of times a backspace key is hit and the number of words typed per minute might indicate to an employer whether or not development of employees' typing skills are necessary. If typing errors are resulting in reduced efficiency, an employer should be able to know it.

Similarly, if employees are spending an undue amount of time surfing the web on his dime, he's got a right to know that. Why, specifically, is this a violation of privacy, besides the fact that you'd feel uncomfortable in the employees' situation?

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TomDavidson
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quote:
What distinction might that be, from a privacy point of view?
For one thing, the number of times the backspace key is struck is not inherently relevant to the job being performed, insofar as that job consists of the ability to produce a specific quota of entered orders per hour.

quote:
Moreover, the number of times a backspace key is hit and the number of words typed per minute might indicate to an employer whether or not development of employees' typing skills are necessary.
Leaving aside the fact that a typical employer of menial typists in this situation would never consider developing his employees' typing skills, but would rather fire them and replace them with better typists, it's again worth noting that this sort of professional development is best requested by the employees themselves.
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Everard
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Totally unrelated legal question:

If multiple parties agree to a contract, and one party contracts to enforce certain violations of the contract against other signatories to the contract, is failure to enforce those aspects of the contract protected against by a clause of the contract that says "quality of service is not garunteed."

Basically, what I'm asking is, can you agree to do something very specific in a contract, and then not perform that action because part of the contract says "Corporation X provides no guarantee of service quality?"

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Gaoics79
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quote:
If multiple parties agree to a contract, and one party contracts to enforce certain violations of the contract against other signatories to the contract, is failure to enforce those aspects of the contract protected against by a clause of the contract that says "quality of service is not garunteed."
[Smile] I have no idea what you're talking about!

quote:
Basically, what I'm asking is, can you agree to do something very specific in a contract, and then not perform that action because part of the contract says "Corporation X provides no guarantee of service quality?"
Ok, now you're being a bit clearer. I think what you're asking is, can a party rely on a general clause of a contract (eg: we make no guarantees as to the quality of the floors being installed) to breach a specific clause of the same contract (eg: we contract to install only real wood floors").

The answer would be no. At least, I can't think of a reason why a court would deliberately interpret a contract so as to achieve such a nonsensical result. Do you have a specific scenario in mind?

[ May 21, 2006, 10:49 PM: Message edited by: jasonr ]

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Everard
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I actually have a general specific scenario in mind.

A game i play online has a user agreement that states that foul or innapropriate language is not tolerated, and any user who violates that agreement will be banned "immediately".

Later in the user agreement, they state that the company "provides no guarantee of service quality"

That rule is more or less completely unenforced, to the point that people routinely get called "peice of (expletive)" in in game communications.

There's not really a REASON I'm asking this, other then that it intrigues me.

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The Drake
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quote:
Originally posted by Paladine:
Drake....why? If your boss were to see you come in late when he's PAYING you to be there, I'm sure you wouldn't be ready to quit if he said something about it. Why is it so different if he doesn't happen to be in the room, but sees it through a camera?

Similarly, if you're spending all day on personal phone calls and internet activities that don't have anything to do with work, why shouldn't he bring that up with you?

Fair enough. I'd be ready to quit, in either the "boss saw me in person" or "boss saw me via camera" case. Why? Because it isn't a chronic condition with me. I'm also salaried, not punching a clock, which makes a difference.

Likewise with phone calls. If I happen to make a large number of personal calls on a particular day, it is because something dire is happening.

Of course, the fact that these aren't chronic problems is part of the reason why I have the mobility to get another job.

Naturally, there are consequences to not getting your job done. When I worked in fast food, we had to rely on "proof" to fire someone for fear of a lawsuit. Let employers fire people for just not getting work done or completely arbitrarily, and I'll bet a lot of these intrusive things go away.

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vulture
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quote:
Originally posted by Everard:
I actually have a general specific scenario in mind.

A game i play online has a user agreement that states that foul or innapropriate language is not tolerated, and any user who violates that agreement will be banned "immediately".

Later in the user agreement, they state that the company "provides no guarantee of service quality"

That rule is more or less completely unenforced, to the point that people routinely get called "peice of (expletive)" in in game communications.

There's not really a REASON I'm asking this, other then that it intrigues me.

Well, if you're going to play World of Warcraft...

The 'no guarantee of service quality' is probably intended more in reference to server down time / lag issues than enforcement of in-game language codes. It's to cover their asses against being sued for not having the servers up and running enough of the time.

The bad language issue is unrelated to that - since they own the servers they are entitled to ban people for bad language. They have no obligation to do so as far as I am aware - I don't recall seeing anything in the contract about them guaranteeing an expletive-free zone. The game is rated 12+ for that precise reason - they can't make guarantees about the behaviour of other players.

But IANAL.

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Rallan
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quote:
Originally posted by Paladine:
quote:
This issue, though, is still completely separate from the issue of surveillance. My dad, who's now the VPIT of a large produce concern in Chicago, has installed keyloggers on all the computers used by their phone sales staff -- so that they know exactly how the computers are being used, how fast orders are entered, and even how many time any given worker hits "backspace" or "delete" to correct a mistake.

I consider this an unacceptable invasion of a worker's privacy, and would never work in that environment. Clearly, the menial wage slaves he's chained to their computers are desperate enough to disagree.

Again: why do workers have this right to "privacy" in the commission of tasks for which they're compensated? Why shouldn't my employer know if I'm doing my job inefficiently (by whatever metric you care to use; I'm not talking about robotic precision)?
Oh I dunno, why can't we just chain those pesky plebians to their desks if we can find workers desperate enough to accept the conditions? Seriously dude, an effort has to be made to guaruntee some sort of basic rights about workplace conditions (beyond fundamentals like "hey let's ban insanely dangerous working conditions"), otherwise conditions for workers as a whole will be pared back to the bone in the name of productivity figures. A forty hour working week (and let's be honest, an awful lot of full-time workers are routinely working more than that to make ends mee these days) is pretty much a quarter of all the time you've got, and it's patently ridiculous to assume for no apparent reason that there's nothing unhealthy about a society which arbitrarily suspeds the freedom and dignity people normally have as soon as they sign on in the morning.

And Tom Davidson's "Clearly, the menial wage slaves he's chained to their computers are desperate enough to disagree." statement is a pretty damn good indicator of what's going wrong (even if he didn't necessarily mean it that way). We live in societies that could very easily (and, historically, have) provide a good standard of living for everyone without breaking the bank. Why should we settle for a system where people in the crappiest-paying jobs have to hold their noses and put up with the most ivasive oversight with the least compensation (seriously, would you rather have a boss scrutinising your every move on minimum wage or on a generous salary with a company car?) purely because they're the ones with the least bargaining power?

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The Drake
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I will add that there is an expectation of privacy with regard to phone calls and internet use that I would not want to see violated.

What if I'm taking a call from my doctor about test results? Or logging in online to make a bank payment?

However, I also think that as long as the employer states up front that such things will be monitored, they cancel the expectation of privacy and can do what they want.

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The Drake
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quote:
Originally posted by Rallan:
Why should we settle for a system where people in the crappiest-paying jobs have to hold their noses and put up with the most ivasive oversight with the least compensation (seriously, would you rather have a boss scrutinising your every move on minimum wage or on a generous salary with a company car?) purely because they're the ones with the least bargaining power?

Precisely. Employment is a contract, and contracts are negotiable. Just be glad the boss doesn't make you dance like a monkey for two minutes before lunch.

Also, you generally have to scrutinize low rate hourly employees, because they aren't likely to be self-motivated. Otherwise, they wouldn't be low rate hourly employees.

[ May 22, 2006, 09:09 AM: Message edited by: The Drake ]

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Koner
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Everard,

Back when Everquest was a Verant game before Sony Online bought them out, several players were banned for violating the EULA that prohibited, among other things, "bad" language and selling of accounts and ingame items for real world cash. They were sued for banning accounts. This lead directly to a "bad" word filter being coded into the game which players can turn on and off as they desire. SOE and Verant before them has never been able to successfully win a case in which they have banned an account over a EULA violation and the account owner has sued.

It seems that End User License Agreements for software are very difficult to back up legally.It now seems that when accounts are banned for EULA violations they are just hoping that they don't get sued for it. The majority just go find another game to play.

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LinuxFreakus
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Regardless of the legality, the situation does seem a little creepy. I would not like that at all. I know the internet traffic is actively monitored at some of my clients, but at least there I can run a VPN to encrypt all my traffic. Knowing that my boss might be literally watching me on camera at any time while I am at work would be a little nuts.
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