10 votes

Activision Blizzard pays employees $1 per day to share their pregnancy data

11 comments

  1. [6]
    aphoenix (edited ) Link
    This is getting painted as something nefarious, with the author pointing out the "horror" of this quote: This shows a complete lack of understanding of how capitalism works. Blizzard is promoting...

    This is getting painted as something nefarious, with the author pointing out the "horror" of this quote:

    I want them to have a healthy baby because it's great for our business experience.

    This shows a complete lack of understanding of how capitalism works. Blizzard is promoting this and promoting health because it has a solid and demonstrable benefit for their bottom line. The only way large companies will start supporting the people who work for them is if it has a positive effect on the bottom line so phrasing things like this means that it's more and more likely for other companies to start following suit.

    Collectively, we used to understand that treating workers like important humans made life better, but it seems like the rich owners of places have forgotten that. Activision Blizzard is showing that health and happiness are not just nice things to have, they also benefit the company.

    Instead of attempting to demonize the company for showing this, maybe they should look at the problems in society that have progressed to the point that a company asset manager has to make excuses for actually providing benefits to employees, and insisting that to do so is actually a monetary gain.

    Most of the comments on the article itself seem to focus on companies using this information as a form of discrimination, but there was no indication that this was the case. I'm sure that if there was actually any impropriety, that would have been the lead of this article. Buried pretty far down, there are some interesting stats, like this one:

    Activision Blizzard claims the program has brought health benefits to employees (such as helping nearly 20 women previously diagnosed as infertile to conceive

    That doesn't sound like it is discriminating against women who are having children.

    To top it all off - this is a voluntary process, and Actiblizz pays people to take part in it (as they do with their opt-in fitness / mental health tracking), so if anyone feels bad about this, then they can just not take that money.

    Edit: It's also important to note that this is aggregate data. Here's some info from the Washington Post Article which is significantly less inflammatory (any emphasis is mine):

    Employers who pay the apps’ developer, Ovia Health, can offer their workers a special version of the apps that relays their health data — in a “de-identified,” aggregated form — to an internal employer website accessible by human resources personnel.

    Ovia chief executive Paris Wallace said the company complies with privacy laws and provides the aggregate data so employers can evaluate how their workforces’ health outcomes have changed over time.

    This is not a tool for monitoring individuals, but for monitoring an entire workforce.

    13 votes
    1. [5]
      The_Fad (edited ) Link Parent
      I can only speak for myself but I'm not giving bonus points to an increasingly money-hungry company just because they paid lip service (and I do mean lip service; there is no meaningful difference...

      I can only speak for myself but I'm not giving bonus points to an increasingly money-hungry company just because they paid lip service (and I do mean lip service; there is no meaningful difference in paying someone $1 for their medical health data and paying them nothing) to make themselves look good and try to spin this as them being, "capitalist trendsetters".

      At the end of the day they're paying employees one dollar for a wealth of personal data, which is morally and ethically no better than other Big Tech companies taking similar info for free via browser tracking.

      7 votes
      1. [2]
        aphoenix Link Parent
        Feel free to not give bonus points. However, this article straight up demonizes them. Activision, Blizzard, and Activision-Blizzard have all always been trying to maximize their profits, and...

        I'm not giving bonus points

        Feel free to not give bonus points. However, this article straight up demonizes them.

        to an increasingly money-hungry company

        Activision, Blizzard, and Activision-Blizzard have all always been trying to maximize their profits, and telling yourself this has gotten worse is incorrect at best and delusional at worst. They are a company that is there first and foremost to make money. It is super chic to hate on them right now for how they've handled things, but the only thing that has changed in how they approach things is that right now some fans aren't particularly happy about some of the games. The business practices are no different.

        which is morally and ethically no better than other Big Tech companies taking similar info for free via browser tracking.

        I understand that people want to have privacy, and I respect that, and if ActiBlizz was forcing people to sign up, that would be heinous. Luckily, they're paying people to volunteer, and they seem to be using the results to help the people that they're paying to volunteer.

        By all means, take people to task for privacy breaches, but if my employer says "If you want, I'll track your data, and send it to someone to analyze, and if you have health problems we'll fix them. This is a bit of a privacy invasion, though, so I'll pay you for this" then I would probably think about doing it (if I lived in a country where health care wasn't a right, but a privilege, but that's a different argument).

        6 votes
        1. The_Fad Link Parent
          The running problem isn't a logical one, as you and many who think like you assert. It's a moral problem and an ethical problem. Morally it is unjust to pay your employees so little for something...

          The running problem isn't a logical one, as you and many who think like you assert. It's a moral problem and an ethical problem. Morally it is unjust to pay your employees so little for something that gives your company such value. Ethically it's dubious to collect this data in the first place, even if it is voluntary, as it has no meaningful, direct connection to the business AB is doing as a whole. It makes logical sense for a company to pay its employees if they volunteer information; the problem arises when you look practically at how its being done.

          We pretty clearly disagree on multiple issues here so I'm going to avoid going into your other points, as I don't have the time or desire to get into a lengthy debate that ultimately comes down to little more than semantics. I don't mean that as a slight against you or anyone else, just as a statement of fact.

          8 votes
      2. [2]
        Gaywallet Link Parent
        I see this mindset constantly and it makes me wonder, if a "big tech" company or a "money-hungry" company gets a new CEO or a new vision that actually puts the employee first, how could they do...

        At the end of the day they're paying employees one dollar for a wealth of personal data, which is morally and ethically no better than other Big Tech companies taking similar info for free via browser tracking.

        I see this mindset constantly and it makes me wonder, if a "big tech" company or a "money-hungry" company gets a new CEO or a new vision that actually puts the employee first, how could they do anything without receiving flak like this?

        More importantly, how can you judge the intent of the policy?

        I find this a particularly weird thing for people to get upset about. You don't typically see the same response to companies promoting say, diversity hire programs. Why does this line of thinking only apply when we are talking about companies implementing a policy that might benefit it's employees?

        4 votes
        1. The_Fad Link Parent
          It would be different if the company in question was offering more than token compensation. If a new CEO comes in and wants to install their new vision that puts employees first, by all means. But...

          It would be different if the company in question was offering more than token compensation. If a new CEO comes in and wants to install their new vision that puts employees first, by all means. But offering this program voluntarily and providing $1 compensation isn't exactly putting your employees first.

          Additionally, comparing something like this to diversity hire programs is basically a non-starter argument because the vast majority of companies don't have diversity hiring programs to put their employees first, they have them as a means to avoid discrimination lawsuits. You can tell because historically the vast majority of companies didn't install any sort of diversity hiring requirements or recommendations until it effectively became law to do so.

          3 votes
  2. [5]
    Sahasrahla (edited ) Link
    The linked Washington Post article goes into more detail and has a more neutral tone while still highlighting the possible dangers and creepiness of this. Many people quoted in the article see...

    The linked Washington Post article goes into more detail and has a more neutral tone while still highlighting the possible dangers and creepiness of this. Many people quoted in the article see this as a good thing and it sounds like it is helping a lot of women and their families, but I don't see how any of these people are helped by their private information being aggregated and shared. I feel like there should be laws which limit how much personal information an employer can gather on their employees even if the collection is "voluntary" (who wants to face the social pressure of being the one person in the office not competing on fitbit? what if bonuses are cut to fund incentive programs for data tracking?).

    Edit: In case my wording was ambiguous I meant that it sounds like this app does help people and do some good, but the data sharing it does is unnecessary for that and could be exploited in harmful and unethical ways.

    6 votes
    1. The_Fad Link Parent
      Thank you for making my point more succinctly than I could.

      Thank you for making my point more succinctly than I could.

      3 votes
    2. [3]
      aphoenix Link Parent
      What if the data were completely anonymous and in aggregate form? I wouldn't want my boss to see things like my actual blood pressure, but if he could get an idea about blood pressure of the...

      I feel like there should be laws which limit how much personal information an employer can gather on their employees even if the collection is "voluntary"

      What if the data were completely anonymous and in aggregate form? I wouldn't want my boss to see things like my actual blood pressure, but if he could get an idea about blood pressure of the entire office, and then measure things like "we switched from half and half to milk in 2018" and see if that changed the aggregated blood pressure of the office. Would that be acceptable?

      1 vote
      1. Rez Link Parent
        I think what discomforts me about it is the fact that even granting initially benevolent motives, the issue is the trend more than cherry picked ideal examples. The process serves to further...

        I think what discomforts me about it is the fact that even granting initially benevolent motives, the issue is the trend more than cherry picked ideal examples. The process serves to further optimize and reduce humans to data points to be tinkered with experimentally. Our workplaces in America have much more power over our personal lives than the government - I don't want them trying to further manipulate me, when so much of job happiness and productivity is still resultant from factors far outside the scope of data that can be both captured and interpreted accurately. Individual workplaces will vary considerably, but at the end of the day I need a job, so for most people they don't really have a choice but to subject themselves to the whims of their employers where "optional" participation in something is all but required.

        My distrust is also rooted in the fact that, in my experience, businesses are incredibly terrible at running any sort of remotely trustworthy surveys, data collection, etc. I have heard countless horror stories of "anonymous" forms that were anything but, or even if that was technically the case, the workplace is small enough for bosses to figure out who reported what. At the end of the day, for me to give 100% honest, considered feedback and to feel comfortable giving away personal information, I need to not only be told but truly convinced it will be anonymous, which is a very hard sell in the digital era and in the context of a workplace. What makes Ovia Health trustworthy besides the fact that it is a different company? I have heard enough examples of such partnerships failing to uphold their promise (e.g. only aggregated and anonymous) that I am inherently wary of it. If I go through with giving my data, feedback, etc., I've given it with the expectation that it will be public.

        Most people running these things have benign enough motives, but rarely is that motive enough to suppress their desire to produce particular outcomes that reflect well on themselves, which leads to perverse behavior that degrades or ruins the quality of the data. A person has little motive to rigorously probe if there were other reasons that blood pressure might have fallen besides switching to milk as they will be inclined to take the results at face value and to laud themselves for having made an organizationally beneficial decision.

        8 votes
      2. Sahasrahla Link Parent
        It's an interesting question. On some level my rejection of things like this is because I fundamentally value privacy and feel like surveillance of such intimate data is just plain creepy—but I...

        It's an interesting question. On some level my rejection of things like this is because I fundamentally value privacy and feel like surveillance of such intimate data is just plain creepy—but I understand that everyone has different comfort levels for that sort of thing and there's no objective right or wrong way to feel. That being said, there are some reasons that I think anyone should be wary of this even if the data were aggregated and anonymized:

        • No anonymization scheme is perfect. We have powerful tools for big data analysis and unexpected patterns and exploits can be found. e.g. This NYT article on how anonymous location data can be analyzed to find personal details.
        • Anonymization is impossible in a practical sense for smaller businesses; if you have aggregate data for one pregnant employee in a twenty person office then you'll know who it is.
        • No privacy or security scheme is perfect. Hackers can find their way in, unscrupulous employees can access data for personal reasons, the data collection company may itself act illegally or unethically without anyone finding out. e.g. A retailer goes bankrupt and when its inventory is auctioned off hard drives containing personal records end up on Craigslist.
        • Aggregate data could be used in harmful ways we might not predict. You give the example of a company testing to see if changes they make reduce employees' blood pressure. That's fine, but what if they want to find ways to reduce the number of employees trying to get pregnant? A big enough company could even do AB testing on different locations to find optimal ways of influencing their employees' behaviour.
        • Voluntary schemes might not be voluntary in practice and there could be consequences for anyone wanting to opt out. Whatever laws or rules are in place to prevent coercion might be difficult to enforce in practice. There's some precedent for this in the idea that it's illegal in many places to volunteer to do your own job; the risk of coercion to get free unpaid labour is too high so a blanket ban is in place instead of trying to decide who's actually volunteering and who is being pressured.
        • Encouraging employee health and well-being does not require personal data collection. Providing good insurance, reasonable working hours, job security, etc. can go a long way towards making people healthier. Existing research on well-being can also be found and put to use. Companies don't need to do their own ad hoc data collection and analysis to try to find a silver bullet to employee wellness when obvious steps exist which can already be taken.
        • Companies and bosses are not evil and most people, employers or otherwise, are generally good and want to act ethically. To say that companies and employers are profit motivated is true but it doesn't capture the whole complexity of motivations and interests which inform an individual's or organization's actions. However, the interests of employee and employer are not always aligned even when it comes to one's own health, and even well-meaning ethical people can overlook or justify their own unethical actions. Information is power and giving that up to someone with divergent interests who already holds a great deal of power over you could be unwise in ways that are hard to predict.
        4 votes