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Data Society Research Seminar:

Andra Siibak „You either love it immediately, or you hate it“. Micro-chipped employees: the future of work?

New applications and smart devices enable employers to collect enormous quantities of employees’ personal data and to do so within a reasonable time and with inexpensive means (Ogriseg, 2017). In addition to prediction and flagging tools, remote monitoring and time-tracking, gamification and algorithmic management (Mateescu & Nguyen, 2019), for the last decade, employers have also experimented with the use of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) microchips as additional tools for monitoring employee activities (Michael & Michael, 2013; Smith, 2008). In fact, research indicates that in recent years employers around the world (e.g. USA, Mexico, Sweden, Belgium, Estonia) have started to implant employees with microchips (Esfola, 2018; Petersen 2019).

Even though scholars have theorized upon different ethical and legal concerns (Rodriguez, 2019; Ogriseg, 2017) regarding employee microchipping, empirical scholarship (Petersen, 2019) which would reflect upon the experiences and opinions of microchipped employees themselves is still currently lacking. Thus, as pointed out by Irp, Michael and Michael (2008), there is not enough insights about the opportunities and risks microchipped employees associate with the technology.

Individual interviews with microchipped employees

The present talk will rely upon the semi-structured individual interviews with microchipped employees from six different Estonian organizations to explore their reasoning for accepting microchip implants from their employers and the potential benefits and problems they associate with the technology. Relying on the diffusion of innovations theory (DOI) by Everett Rogers (1962 [2003]) I aim to trace the steps of the innovation-decision process our interviewed employees underwent when adopting to microchip implants. Furthermore, I will investigate how the microchipped employees reflect upon their employers framing of the microchipping practice and how they perceived insideable technologies (Gauttier, 2019) to be viewed by their colleagues who had decided against implanting a chip.

Andra Siibak

Short bio: Andra Siibak, is a Professor of Media Studies and program director of the Media and Communication doctoral program at the Institute of Social Studies, University of Tartu, Estonia. In spring 2020 she is a Fulbright Scholar at the department of Communication, in the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her main field of research has to do with the opportunities and risks surrounding internet use, tech-saturated workplace, privacy, generations and internet, datafication of childhood. In her most recent projects, she is studying datafication of employment (e.g. microchipped employees) and parental dataveillance of children.

She has published more than 80 international peer reviewed publications in different edited collections and journals, including Journal of Computer Mediated Communication; Social Media + Society; Cyberpsychology, Journal of Technology of Human Services, Media International Australia, etc. Andra has been a member of various international research projects and networks and acted as an expert consultant for different projects initiated by the European Parliament, European Commission, European Council and OECD. She is a recipient of various awards and scholarships, including: Young Scientist Award by the President of Estonia (2015), Outstanding Young Person in Estonia (TOYP) award (2017) and prof. Peeter Tulviste memorial scholarship (2020).