Privacy at the Margins| Refractive Surveillance: Monitoring Customers to Manage Workers

Karen Levy, Solon Barocas


Collecting information about one group can facilitate control over an entirely different group—a phenomenon we term refractive surveillance. We explore this dynamic in the context of retail stores by investigating how retailers’ collection of data about customers facilitates new forms of managerial control over workers. We identify four mechanisms through which refractive surveillance might occur in retail work, involving dynamic labor scheduling, new forms of evaluation, externalization of worker knowledge, and replacement through customer self-service. Our research suggests that the effects of surveillance cannot be fully understood without considering how populations might be managed on the basis of data collected about others.


surveillance, privacy, inequality, retail, consumers, labor, management

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