The Domino’s ‘pizza checker’ is just the beginning – workplace surveillance is coming for you

Hello? Is that Domino’s? I would like a large cheese pizza with an ominous side of surveillance, please.

Earlier this year, Domino’s, the worldwide purveyor of mediocre pizza, introduced a snazzy tool called the Dom Pizza Checker to its Australia and New Zealand locations. According to its website, in-store cameras “use advanced machine learning, artificial intelligence and sensor technology to identify pizza type, even topping distribution and correct toppings”. If your food doesn’t match your order, or internal quality standards, workers are ordered to make it again. Basically, Big Brother is watching your pizza.

At first glance, this may sound benign. The tech ensures customers receive consistent quality; what could be wrong with that? The answer, dear reader, is that it is 2019: everything is problematic – even pizza. Nick Knight, who runs Domino’s in the region, provided more details about the tool at a recent investor day, revealing that it will be incorporated into a “‘scorecard’ bonus system” for franchises and used to identify underperforming stores. In short, it is a workplace surveillance tool. Welcome to – as the tech website iTnews put it – “the great pizza panopticon”.

Of course, Domino’s would like you to know that there is nothing remotely creepy about this. “Dom Pizza Checker is a tool used to train our team members … not to punish those who make mistakes,” a Domino’s spokesperson told iTnews. But even if that is true, even if we give Domino’s the benefit of the doubt, the Pizza Checker’s all-seeing eyes and calculating AI should still give us pause for thought. Domino’s, after all, is far from the only company tracking workers: workplace surveillance is becoming increasingly pervasive and worryingly sophisticated.

In fact, there is a good chance your employer is watching you right now. According to the research firm Gartner, 50% of businesses monitor employees, a figure it expects to rise to 80% by 2020. This monitoring takes a variety of forms. Your employer may be taking remote screenshots of your computer. It may be logging your keystrokes or recording your Google searches. It may be tracking the time you are spending reading this, so it can plug that data into an algorithm to analyse your behaviour and predict whether you are likely to quit. It may even be monitoring your facial expressions or tone of voice and gauging your mood.

Many of us are resigned to – and perhaps even fine with – the idea that our employer can scan our emails or keep track of how much time we waste on social media. But we are entering a new world of workplace surveillance in which we are watched 24/7 and every move is scrutinised. And things are only going to get more intrusive as corporations treat us less like human beings and more like machines. Last year, for example, Amazon patented an “ultrasonic bracelet” to be worn by workers to “monitor performance of assigned tasks”. Meanwhile, companies are implanting chips under workers’ skin and China is monitoring employees’ brain waves. It won’t be long until we have all been implanted with chips that keep track of our productivity and trigger a self-combustion protocol when we are no longer deemed useful to our AI overloads. But, hey, while the future may look bleak, at least there is consistently prepared pizza to look forward to.

Arwa Mahdawi is a Guardian columnist

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