Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Enter the webcam

I've started to write about this many times. There are a lot of reasons I haven't.  But a couple of things tipped me this past week -- least of all not having updated this blog in 10 days.

And maybe that was the real catalyst . A frequent reader suggested that the new job must be "very interesting," since I hadn't written in awhile.  Or... I replied, there is nothing interesting to write about it.

Neither one is true.

It is 8am and I am in my desk -- in the dark, because I haven't learned where the light switches are and because I don't want that to now be my responsibility, turning the lights on, when I am not at all the first person here in the morning. Someone is already making and tagging the coffee. The interesting things I have to do today are accompany a co-worker on a customer call and make it back on time for a run-through of a PowerPoint deck. Until then, I am heightening the intensity by blogging to you about work... at work.

I have narrowed our topic to the Webcam because it is the source of much whispering around the cube-farm, yet no one seems about to confront it --- including me.  It's easily a year before I start calling those balls and strikes.

The manager I have nicknamed Sparky has installed a webcam in her cube.  Sparky should have an office, but as these things go in corporate politics, she was too late to the dance, and does not rate high enough to have someone bounced on her behalf.  If she has been offered an office around the corner, she has turned it down (and I have no evidence that she has).   One can extrapolate that she has turned it down in favor of her webcam.

Here's the set up.
It's aimed behind her, and certainly many people set up rear-view mirrors in their cubes to see who is behind them.  I have never caught on to that (like I need more distractions) but I get the appeal for a certain kind of personality.

Originally, it was inside her cube, but it seems she didn't like the mise en scene, because a day or two later she was standing on her desk, mounting the watchful eye on the support pole conveniently located behind her back wall.Weeelll... now... we have depth of field, see.... and we are in business.

Point # 1 (or #2, if you count the existence of the camera as the first point, and already I can hear some of you howling your protests) - when you do come to her cube "door," and you appear on the 2nd monitor she has set up primarily for this purpose, she will talk to the screen for at least a few seconds before she turns around to talk to you.

Point #2 - the office door it actually points at (presumably the office she would have if it weren't for those meddling kids) belongs to our HR rep (or Haytch-Are rep, as one commonly says around here).  She is like Toby from The Office, but without the sense of duty.  So even if she is aware of it (which I doubt) she is not going to speak up or out. 

Point #3 - Other people who are not going to complain are Sparky's team; her cohort, whose team members have complained to them; her peers in other departments who find it appalling but none of their business.  Like the cargo shorts and sneakers.  But that's another blog.  In fact, it's this blog.

Point #4 - The Tipper - In a recent meeting, to which Sparky now brings her personal iPad rather than the company asset, the webcam view appeared on her screen.

To reiterate: on her iPad screen.
a. this took some effort, more so than standing on her desk
b. is a truly "personal" personal computer the appropriate place for this?
c. w.t.f.

Questions for Discussion:
Discuss the following questions with members of your team.  Designate a note-taker and present your findings to the larger group.
1.  Does Sparky watch her webcam when she is away from her desk?
2.  If yes, what is she watching?  What measures would be required to actually steal something off her desk under the weak peripheral vision of the lens?
3.   If yes, does she watch from home?Is that a sickness?If yes, which sickness and which pharmaceutical should be applied?
4.   Is she, right now, looking up devices that will allow her to aim said camera from her laptop, from home?
5.   If yes, will she come across this post?

I thought of taking a picture of the webcam in a kind of meta-spy counter-measure.  But you know I don't know how to work those things.


  1. A few thoughts...
    1) Streaming video over the internet takes a lot of bandwidth. Unless she has some sort of cellular modem, she is using company bandwidth. IT should become aware. If you don't want to confront this head on, tell IT that your internet connection has seemed slow since (date camera was installed).

    2) If it's pointed at HR, she knows who is going to see HR. This seems like a privacy violation. HR should be informed.

    3) As you are often in the office early (with the lights off), sneak up behind the camera and either A) knock it off its perch (it was the cleaning people); or B) apply a black sharpie to the lens. If you don't want to be quite so destructive, use a post-it, or start decorating it with ears or a smiley face.

  2. Appalling, simply appalling! Someone in authority needs to tell Sparky to take it down and take it home. If she wants to know what's going on behind her, she needs to get someone to rearrange her cube - as much as possible - and then she needs to get over it.

    It is totally unfair to the rest of the people in the cube farm/on the floor to be forced to live with that invasion of their space.

    The HR lady may not feel that it is her job to do it, but she will surely have to deal with the fallout when people finally go crazy about it. is there a facility manager?

    Just because technology exists does not mean one has to use it, and this one is a trust buster! How's your aim with a sling shot?

  3. I've thought of this all day and, in addition to being outraged, I think you also have a security issue. No telling what company documents or practices [or something] might be inadvertently captured and possibly released publicly. I think security needs to be notified immediately about a possible breach.

  4. Well said, Webb! The fact that e-mail and voicmail belong to the Company and we have no expectation of privacy in that area is pretty universal these days. Spying on the employees via webcam should be left up to security with reasonable cause. This person is SICK and apparently paranoid!! M

  5. Everyone else's comments are spot on, though I think we are missing the larger question here: Who Does That?!? I submit to you that you should get a life size card board standee (I have several of Star Wars characters if you'd like to borrow one) and place it in front of the camera each morning. A different one each day. Of course, you'd have to crawl on the ground commando style to stay out of frame while you do it....

  6. Even the Baroness is stumped on this one. It does make me wonder about the security measures she takes at home. I wonder if the UPS driver knows there's film...

  7. Like Webb, the more I have thought about this, the more incensed I become. Surely, the HR person on whose door this cam is pointing is as aware as you are (you would think!). In any case, it really is something that should be reported to security - perhaps under the guise of "wonder who did this and why" rather than specifically naming the guilty party. There is very likely some federal/state rule that is being violated but this activity and not reporting it puts the entire company in jeopardy with outside powers that be. Wonder what would happen if the thing did fall of the pole? M

  8. 1. Does Sparky watch her webcam when she is away from her desk? YES

    2. If yes, what is she watching? YOU

    What measures would be required to actually steal something off her desk under the weak peripheral vision of the lens? MY HUSBAND RAN A SNIPER SCHOOL IN THE U.S. ARMY. TAKING OUT THAT WEBCAM. EASY-PEASY.

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. I can't believe I have been this close to a sniper and not put that connection to use.
    Incidentally, I call the other two Mgrs Crazy and Crazier, and I look forward to a lot of material from them.

  11. How about putting a large sign outside the cube saying "Warning! This area is under video surveillance."


Comments Build Community! We thank you for yours. Spam comments are not welcome and will not be posted.