"Refractive Surveillance: Monitoring Customers to Manage Workers"
by Levy, Karen; Barocas, Solon (2018)
Collecting information about one group can facilitate control over an entirely different group—a phenomenon we term refractive surveillance . We explore this dynamic in the context of retail stores by investigating how retailers’ collection of data about customers facilitates new forms of managerial control over workers. We identify four mechanisms through which refractive surveillance might occur in retail work, involving dynamic labor scheduling, new forms of evaluation, externalization of worker knowledge, and replacement through customer self-service. Our research suggests that the effects of surveillance cannot be fully understood without considering how populations might be managed on the basis of data collected about others.
Refractive surveillance broadens the scope of analysis of data collection to more comprehensively account for its effects on populations other than its putative target. In the retail context, customer data collection has the capacity to reshape managerial practices—to the potential economic detriment of workers—via several independent mechanisms. Customer traffic data allow retailers to optimize labor scheduling dynamically, creating the potential for destabilizing and unpredictable work schedules. Customers’behaviors and interactions in stores give rise to the capacity for greater control over workers’encounters with them, as well as new forms of worker evaluation. Clienteling software externalizes customer profiles and preferences to render workers more easily substitutable; sensor-based self-service allows for workers to be replaced altogether by data-driven signage and checkout systems. Each case demonstrates refractive surveillance dynamics, in which retailers leverage customer data in the management of workers. (p.17)
KeywordsInequality, Surveilance, Worker Monitoring, Privacy, Data
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