In early December, Tampines Town Council started to monitor the work carried out by estate cleaners through a mobile app. Upon starting their day, the cleaners have to log into the app and the app provides insights on their routes, area coverage, and reports their progress to supervisors. This move was in response to residents’ complaint about the cleanliness of the estate.

Apart from the concerns about breaches in privacy expressed by some members of the public, this commentary also points out the need to consider the monitoring system’s impact on employer-employee ties, and whether it actually addresses the core problem.

In this article, the main issue identified is that cleaners under this monitoring system face the risk of being seen as mere data points to be optimised and controlled, rather than humans with agency.

Read the full article on Channel NewsAsia: Commentary: Monitoring system for Tampines estate manages cleaners robotically

Analysis:

This is an example of policymakers extending the use of technology towards the dehumanising end of the spectrum. The town council framed it as protecting the cleaners by having evidence that they were around in the area to clean even if the residents do not see them.

When similar technology is used in different contexts, we find that the implications and perceptions begin to differ too. For instance, a fingerprint attendance tracking device used to monitor the attendance of shift workers makes sense because there are exchanges of workload and it reduces individual flexibility in turning up late for work. However, if the same device is used in an office environment to ensure employees turn up on time and the hours spent at work are being closely monitored, the technology would create a culture of fear and rigidity. It is not in the best interest of desk-bound office staff to be monitored on a time-in and time-out basis.

Similarly, tracking the routes of cleaners as though they are parcels to be delivered may create a more dehumanising effect. In this instance, we have to seriously consider if the costs of using technology could outweigh its potential benefits.

Questions for further personal evaluation:

  1. How might cleaners feel when their movements are being tracked?
  2. What other solutions could be better in addressing the concerns of the residents?

Useful vocabulary:

  1. ‘agency’: having influence or effect over something
  2. ‘autonomy’: independence, freedom from influence
  3. ‘newfangled’: different from what one is used to; objectionably new
  4. ‘abdicate’: fail to fulfil or undertake
  5. ‘impinges’: have an effect, especially a negative one

Picture credits:https://unsplash.com/photos/MwW-zrkYSIU