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Worker surveillance poses potential privacy harms

The CFPB has heard from the public about the risks to workers’ privacy that arise from automated workplace surveillance technology. For many workers, simply going to work to earn a living means putting vast amounts of their vital and personal information into the hands of their employers or third-party technology firms. Workers may have no control over how and when that information might be used, or no opportunity for recourse when it impacts their earnings, access to credit, ability to rent an apartment, and more.

The CFPB has responded to these concerns by embarking on an inquiry into the data broker industry and issues raised by new technological developments. Among other information, the CFPB has requested information about the entities that purchase information, the harms from data broker practices, and the issues consumers face when they try to see and correct their personal information. This information can help the CFPB better understand how workers’ personal information, harvested during or because of an individual’s work life, can find its way into the data broker market where it may have impacts far beyond one’s current job.

In a response to an inquiry into automated worker surveillance by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the CFPB has also outlined concerns about the potential harms workers may face when algorithms continually determine a worker’s earnings, hours, and more. The implications go far beyond an initial decision whether to hire or fire. We have long received complaints from the public about inaccuracies and lack of transparency in the employment background screening industry. Automated workplace surveillance technology greatly increases the amount of information being fed into these decision-making systems, the frequency with which they may be used on a given worker, and the number of workers subject to them. As companies offer employers new technologies to gather, share, and sell information in a variety of different ways, federal consumer financial laws may offer important protections to workers.

As the CFPB has noted in other contexts, a company’s choice to use new technologies does not absolve it from its legal obligations. We will continue to use the tools at our disposal to ensure that companies that collect and use information about workers and other consumers are complying with the appropriate federal consumer financial laws.

Read our full response to the request for information .

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