Ethics of Workplace Surveillance Games

Ethics of Workplace Surveillance Games

Peter Danielson (University of British Columbia, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-941-0.ch113
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Many problems in the ethics of technology arise because our ethical conventions take time to adapt to our technology. Workplace surveillance is a good example. This chapter develops some of the ethical issues raised by surveillance technology in the workplace, using a framework of informal game theory. One leading approach to workplace surveillance, following Foucault’s Panopticon metaphor, emphasizes the power of employers over employees; another looks at unexpected consequences from a managerial perspective. Our analysis shows that both of these approaches have more structure than is often noticed, yielding new alternatives for ethical policy recommendation. On the one hand, even those under surveillance by the more powerful have options, and the equilibrium includes outcomes not preferred by the more powerful player. On the other, most surveillance systems have at least two equilibria. Here, ethics has an important role in helping agents choose and maintain socially better equilibria. A number of policy recommendations follow from this approach. This chapter deploys a framework of informal game theory to elucidate some of the ethical issues raised by surveillance technology in the workplace. We do not use “games” in our title to diminish the importance of the issues we discuss, but rather to highlight their interactive, strategic, and dynamic aspects. This chapter focuses on how alternatives are structured by new electronic workplace surveillance technologies, yielding new opportunities for ethics. This chapter extends the approach of Danielson (2002b) to support recommendations for policy in the workplace.

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