r/technology – China’s tech workers pushed to limits by surveillance software


HONG KONG — Andy Wang, an IT engineer at a Shanghai-based gaming company, occasionally felt a pang of guilt about his job.
Most of his hours were spent on a piece of surveillance software called DiSanZhiYan, or “Third Eye.” The system was installed on the laptop of every colleague at his company to track their screens in real time, recording their chats, their browsing activity and every document edit they made.
Working from their floor in a downtown high-rise, the startup’s hundreds of employees were constantly, uncomfortably aware of being under Third Eye’s intent gaze.
The software would also automatically flag “suspicious behavior” such as visiting job-search sites or video streaming platforms. “Efficiency” reports would be generated weekly, summarizing their time spent by website and application.
“Bosses would check the reports regularly,” Wang said. Farther down the line, that could skew workers’ prospects for promotions and pay rises. They could also be used as evidence when the company looked to fire certain people, he added.
Even Wang himself was not exempt. High-definition surveillance cameras were installed around the floor, including in his office, and a receptionist would check the footage every day to monitor how long each employee spent on their lunch break, he said.
After two years, an overwhelmed Wang eventually quit.
“It does not make sense,” he told Nikkei Asia. “We can’t work nonstop in the office. We need to take some breaks.”
In China, technology adoption promises its swelling middle classes an easier, more productive life. But as companies bring productivity-enhancing tools into everyday office life, their efficiency is being channeled, not into leisure time, but into squeezing ever more value from employees.
Just as algorithms have come to govern the workdays of blue-collar warehouse workers at Alibaba Group Holding and food delivery riders for Meituan, elsewhere, white-collar workers are becoming affected by the creep of software-driven management and monitoring into their professional lives.
This is particularly the case in China’s tech industry, where rapid technological development, paired with poor labor regulations, has created a potential for labor abuse. The big tech companies themselves, locked in cutthroat competition for new business opportunities, are pioneering these technologies and tools in their own operations. From hiring and goal-setting to appraisal and layoff, productivity-enhancing technologies look to quantify workers’ behavior by collecting and analyzing extensive amounts of personal data.
Some scholars warn that some practices can be unethical, invading employees’ privacy and burdening them with greater workload and mental stress. Others draw parallels to the fatigue faced by factory laborers during industrial revolutions, where workers chased the pace of machines.
“I felt that I was getting busier and having less time for myself,” said the engineer Wang, looking back on his five years at Chinese internet companies.
The harsh conditions synonymous with China’s sweatshop factory culture have come to be identified with the country’s technology companies, where workers often endure slavishly long hours to hit objectives set by big data analytics. The environment of intense pressure has, in some cases, created a lethal environment for office workers.


HONG KONG — Andy Wang, an IT engineer at a Shanghai-based gaming company, occasionally felt a pang of guilt about his job.
Most of his hours were spent on a piece of surveillance software called DiSanZhiYan, or “Third Eye.” The system was installed on the laptop of every colleague at his company to track their screens in real time, recording their chats, their browsing activity and every document edit they made.
Working from their floor in a downtown high-rise, the startup’s hundreds of employees were constantly, uncomfortably aware of being under Third Eye’s intent gaze.
The software would also automatically flag “suspicious behavior” such as visiting job-search sites or video streaming platforms. “Efficiency” reports would be generated weekly, summarizing their time spent by website and application.
“Bosses would check the reports regularly,” Wang said. Farther down the line, that could skew workers’ prospects for promotions and pay rises. They could also be used as evidence when the company looked to fire certain people, he added.
Even Wang himself was not exempt. High-definition surveillance cameras were installed around the floor, including in his office, and a receptionist would check the footage every day to monitor how long each employee spent on their lunch break, he said.
After two years, an overwhelmed Wang eventually quit.
“It does not make sense,” he told Nikkei Asia. “We can’t work nonstop in the office. We need to take some breaks.”
In China, technology adoption promises its swelling middle classes an easier, more productive life. But as companies bring productivity-enhancing tools into everyday office life, their efficiency is being channeled, not into leisure time, but into squeezing ever more value from employees.
Just as algorithms have come to govern the workdays of blue-collar warehouse workers at Alibaba Group Holding and food delivery riders for Meituan, elsewhere, white-collar workers are becoming affected by the creep of software-driven management and monitoring into their professional lives.
This is particularly the case in China’s tech industry, where rapid technological development, paired with poor labor regulations, has created a potential for labor abuse. The big tech companies themselves, locked in cutthroat competition for new business opportunities, are pioneering these technologies and tools in their own operations. From hiring and goal-setting to appraisal and layoff, productivity-enhancing technologies look to quantify workers’ behavior by collecting and analyzing extensive amounts of personal data.
Some scholars warn that some practices can be unethical, invading employees’ privacy and burdening them with greater workload and mental stress. Others draw parallels to the fatigue faced by factory laborers during industrial revolutions, where workers chased the pace of machines.
“I felt that I was getting busier and having less time for myself,” said the engineer Wang, looking back on his five years at Chinese internet companies.
The harsh conditions synonymous with China’s sweatshop factory culture have come to be identified with the country’s technology companies, where workers often endure slavishly long hours to hit objectives set by big data analytics. The environment of intense pressure has, in some cases, created a lethal environment for office workers.

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