Developing on Shifting Sands: A Case Study of a Workplace Safety Monitoring App During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Jacob Johanssen, Iman Naja, Lamiece Hassan, Carl Adams, Mistale Taylor


Drawing on Foucauldian perspectives, this article takes as a case study the workplace safety app Hygieia, which emerged in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We explore how the app’s users were positioned in relation to questions of responsibility, agency, potential surveillance, and the app’s general features. We used qualitative, semistructured interviews with nine of Hygieia’s developers and conducted an autoethnographic analysis of the app, drawing on the “walkthrough” method. This combination allowed for a robust analysis of envisioned and actual functionalities. Developers’ own ideas about workplace safety were realized in their design choices, creating a network of actors and informational flows coordinated by the app. We argue that the app produces instances of responsibilization in which users are individualized, depersonalized, and encouraged to use the app in particular ways. We question this configuration by emphasizing potential implications for agency, accountability, and privacy, and highlight how ordinary employees appear to shoulder a burden of responsibility for workplace safety against a backdrop of uncertainty, heightened surveillance, and moral obligations. At the same time, some levels of responsibilization and surveillance were also necessary in the context of the pandemic. This article makes a novel contribution to digital surveillance and organization studies by applying Foucauldian perspectives to the new context of developing monitoring support technologies during the COVID-19 pandemic.


apps, COVID-19 pandemic, workplace safety, developers, case study, surveillance

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