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Major Companies Using AI To Spy On Employees’ Messages

Anastasia Boushee
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Several massive companies, including Walmart and Starbucks, have reportedly partnered with an artificial intelligence (AI) company to use its software to spy on their employees’ messages.

Popular communications applications Slack, Microsoft Teams, Zoom and several others have been checking employees’ messages using software from “Aware,” a startup AI company based in Columbus, Ohio, that has been growing exponentially in recent months.

Earlier this month, a report from CNBC revealed that “Huge U.S. employers such as Walmart, Delta Air Lines, T-Mobile, Chevron and Starbucks, as well as European brands including Nestle and AstraZeneca, have turned to a seven-year-old startup, Aware, to monitor chatter among their rank and file, according to the company.”


“Using the anonymized data in Aware’s analytics product, clients can see how employees of a certain age group or in a particular geography are responding to a new corporate policy or marketing campaign,” the outlet explained, citing “Aware” co-founder and CEO Jeff Schumann.

The report noted that “Aware’s dozens of AI models, built to read text and process images, can also identify bullying, harassment, discrimination, noncompliance” as well as “nudity and other behaviors,” according to Schumann.

“Aware said Walmart, T-Mobile, Chevron and Starbucks use its technology for governance risk and compliance, and that type of work accounts for about 80% of the company’s business,” CNBC noted, adding: “It doesn’t take a dystopian novel enthusiast to see where it could all go very wrong.”

The dystopian novel reference is further illustrated by Schumann’s past, as he founded another company in 2005 called — a likely nod to George Orwell’s “1984.”

Meanwhile, Americans who are already skeptical of AI are especially concerned about this new report.

“I would feel like, I don’t know, like they’re just trying to get something out of me and get me in trouble or something. I don’t know, it would be very sneaky,” one woman told Fox Business‘ Lydia Hu.

“I’ve seen A.I. being used firsthand, and it’s so flawed and so messed up that I just think it wouldn’t be a useful investment of anyone’s time or money anyways. And that just doesn’t really foster a trustworthy kind of business vibe,” another woman told the outlet.

Amba Kak, executive director of the AI Now Institute at New York University, expressed concerns that the AI software will result in “a chilling effect on what people are saying in the workplace.”

Others are not concerned with the report, with one man stating: “I think I’m fine with it because I’m very watchful of what I do on company time, company property, anything like that.”

According to Schumann, “Aware” has already seen a significant jump in business, with revenue increasing by an average of 150% per year over the past five years.

He told CNBC that “though Aware’s eDiscovery tool allows security or HR investigations teams to use AI to search through massive amounts of data, a ‘similar but basic capability already exists today’ in Slack, Teams and other platforms.”

“A key distinction here is that Aware and its AI models are not making decisions,” Schumann added. “Our AI simply makes it easier to comb through this new data set to identify potential risks or policy violations.”

“None of our AI models make decisions or recommendations regarding employee discipline,” he continued.

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