WeWork's Tech Acquisitions Show The Rise Of The Surveillance Workplace
The We Company's gambit to become a tech company rather than a real estate company comes with the same modern privacy concerns that dog the tech giants.
Through its acquisitions of startups such as Teem and Euclid, WeWork's umbrella company has built a platform of workplace tracking technology that breaks down the movement of office workers to the most granular levels, Bloomberg reports. Though Teem and Euclid's features are still in the testing phase at WeWork offices, they will soon join a roster of tools already employed by its Powered by We consulting division.
With Powered by We, WeWork designs and manages offices for major companies such as UBS in New Jersey and Amazon in England to look and feel more like a WeWork. The company has been using its tracking technology, which includes motion and thermal sensors as well as Bluetooth pinging, to improve those spaces. WeWork Chief Technology Officer Shiva Rajaraman called it "the Google Analytics of space," according to Bloomberg.
One New York law firm hired Powered by We to analyze if it needed more conference room space, which it did by placing thermal sensors underneath tables to track how many seats were occupied over a given time frame. The gathered data suggested that the firm's conference rooms could be smaller, given that they were rarely full, Bloomberg reports.
Euclid's software tracks cell phones using their MAC address, an identifying number unique to each phone, to map movement throughout an office. Rajaraman said WeWork anonymizes the data, but privacy advocates worry that it can be combined with other tracking data to invade worker privacy and possibly reveal their identities.
“The first intended use of a data set is not the only way a data set ends up being used,” workforce advocate Michelle Miller told Bloomberg.
The technology, and Powered by We in general, is one of the ways WeWork is seeking to diversify its offerings to inoculate itself against how a possible downturn could affect the coworking industry. It is not alone on this front: Knotel has also been in acquisition and partnership mode, readying a blockchain-based property listing system in its bid to surpass WeWork.