my company won’t pay us if we don’t install spy software on our personal computers

A reader writes:

We are working remotely for the time being due to COVID and have recently been asked to install an Internet/computer monitoring program on our personal laptops. I’m uncomfortable with this for several reasons, but mainly I don’t want anyone to have access to my personal laptop and my private data. The software tracks activity level and app and URL activity, and it has a function to send periodic random screenshots back to the employer.

Management said they would mail us all company computers which we could install the software on and we all agreed. That was on Friday. On Monday, they sent out an email saying that they wouldn’t be mailing out the company laptops for several days, and that if we don’t download the software on our personal computers in the meantime that we will not be being paid for the work we do until the program is installed. Is there anything I can do? If I get fired for refusing to put the tracking software on my personal devices, can I file for unemployment?

Your company sucks.

Decent companies manage remote workers (and everyone) by looking at at their output. They don’t install spyware because they have far more effective ways of assessing people’s performance.

And of course you don’t want to install their spyware on your personal devices! Your company has zero standing to monitor what you do on your own devices aside from work, and this plan would give them access they should never have.

Fortunately, their threat not to pay you if you don’t install it is illegal, at least if they expect you to continue to work; they’re required by law to pay you for all work you perform. Of course, they could order you to stop working if you won’t install the software, but there’s a good chance they won’t want to do that. (Plus, if you’re exempt, they can’t dock your pay in partial week increments. If the company laptops take longer than a week to arrive, that could become an issue. But otherwise, no.)

To answer your question about whether you could collect unemployment if you were fired for refusing to install the software on your personal device: It’s pretty risky. Unemployment agencies tend to have a very high bar for “conditions were so bad that I had no choice but to take a stand” and, while I can’t say for sure and it will depend on your state, there’s a good chance you could be denied unemployment if you’re fired for refusing.

Given that, I would do a few things:

1. Point out that they can’t legally decline to pay you when you’ve performed work. Tell them, “It’s against federal and state law to not pay people for their work and we could get in a lot of trouble for that. I’m happy to install the software on a company laptop if you’d like me to, but I’m sure you can understand I’m not willing to give the company access to monitor my personal devices even when I’m not working, and how intrusive that would be. Once the company laptop arrives, though, I’ll certainly do it then.”

Sometimes companies back down when people assert themselves in this way. (And if those company laptops are really coming in just a few days, that makes it more likely that they’ll let it go. If it takes longer, that gets iffier.)

2. Encourage your coworkers to all push back against this with you. If all of you — or even just many of you — refuse to do it, their only legal option would be to shut down everyone’s work until they get those laptops out, and it’s probably not going to be worth it to them to do that. There’s still a risk of that, but this is exactly the sort of thing where you should push back as a group.

3. Alternately, if you’re not in a position to push back, you can always plead technological ignorance. For some reason the software won’t install on your computer … you think you once set up something that blocks that kind of software and you don’t know how to undo it … etc. (If you do #1 or #2, you probably lose the ability to use this option credibly, so factor that into how you proceed.)

We sure are learning a lot about how shitty some companies are! I suppose none of it is terribly surprising, but it’s still awfully depressing.

{ 236 comments… read them below }

  1. The IT Plebe*

    This is so gross. OP, I hope you can band with your coworkers and push back against this because this is just not on.

    And on the very slim chance that someone in a position to implement spyware policies like this reads this column: don’t. Either trust your employees or take a long hard look at your hiring policies since apparently y’all are okay with hiring people you don’t trust, for whatever reason.

    1. Sally*

      I agree wholeheartedly! Not only are we finding out which companies are shitty, we’re finding out which companies don’t know how to manage. It’s so disappointing and sad and awful how many managers/company “leaders” don’t know how to do their jobs well. I wish there were some way to make them all read AAM. It would benefit them as well as their employees.

    2. Analytical Tree Hugger*

      I’d be really interested to hear from a company that is implementing spyware and hearing why they are doing this. Or maybe a company that develops this type of software who is willing to talk about it without being too sales-y about it; I did read the article about the surge in spyware purchases that AAM posted and was interviewed on, which sparked my curiosity.

      1. Someone Remote*

        The company I work for uses exactly this type of software for remote employees. Exceptions are (quietly) made for top performers. But over the years we’ve seen this software help keep people productive. When they don’t use it, their output starts dropping. I personally don’t agree with using it and I think it’s lazy management. But I don’t have a say in it.

        1. Aidan Moran*

          We were randomly sent a group message saying ” All staff working remotely will be required to login to Zoom. You can communicate with eachother verbally, visually and share screens. Etc…” I wasn’t quite sure what this thing Zoom was but this communicating “Visually” sounded terrible.
          At no point did I ever imagine that this would be an 8hour video of my coworkers faces on the screen. So my manager could make sure we were “actually working”. Someone goes to the bathroom, we all knew in a group message that’s why their face left the screen! Finally someone’s husband said this is an invasion of their home and the cameras were turned off. Now we just screen share the entire 8 hours in a meeting with eachother. If our screens stop moving, he asks us if our screen froze. It’s a horrible feeling to know the people you work for do not trust you. Especially when you have given them no reason not to. Zoom has had several privacy issues, I work in a medical office, my coworkers and I are sharing are screens for 8 hours a day with patient information on them, being recorded by my manager, why i do not know.

    3. Mama Bear*

      Assuming it was just a few days and they wouldn’t allow work without it, I’d take time off. You don’t have the tools to do the job. No, you should not have to go that route, but PTO wouldn’t be abandoning your post (something for which people are routinely fired). Maybe being completely unavailable will influence management to consider alternatives.

    4. TardyTardis*

      Not to mention that I don’t want anybody at the company I worked for to know my credit card number or bank passwords. You know, the little things.

      1. CupcakeCounter*

        Was it though? The OP asked about being able to collect if she was fired over it and Alison answered as if she was quitting.

      1. I Will Steal Your Pens*

        I agree – I am curious as well. There are some states that are notoriously lax (Maryland, DC, CA for example) but it is still quite a fight and rarely do they grant it.

      2. Employment Lawyer*

        Employers often TRY to make people think that UE is not available if you’re “fired for cause” but if you think about it, that rule would transfer way too much power to the employers (who can control the whole affair.)

        Often, the default is usually that you are eligible to get UE unless (a) you quit or (b) the employer proves otherwise. It’s the employer’s job to fight it. (If you quit you can often still file, and you can win if you had reason like harassment or failure to pay wages. But the burden of proof will usually shift to you.)

        And the level of proof really varies by state. In Mass., for example, it really requires something fairly bad and therefore rare. So most folks who are fired can collect UE.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          If you were fired for not doing a good job, absolutely. But when it comes to insubordination (which is what they would likely consider this), I’ve mostly seen them deny people.

          In my experience here in DC and VA, they’re very black and white and if you refused a lawful order, you’re almost definitely getting denied.

          1. Not Australian*

            Surely, though, there must be some debate as to whether or not this is ‘a lawful order’?

              1. Sally*

                The illegal part is if the OP and their colleages do work that they don’t get paid for. But if they are told not to work, then that wouldn’t be an issue (unless they’re exempt).

            1. MK*

              It’s very likely that they are interpreting lawful as not illegal, not going into nuances. Also, a debate means a fight the OP might or might not win, as Alison said.

            2. AnotherMary*

              I can only comment on my experience in IL, but I am on the board of an animal shelter and we stopped even fighting unemployment after we fired an employee for flushing animal meds down the toilet rather than administering them, we had documentation of that, and the person was still granted unemployment after we fought it.

            3. CM*

              I’m not in the US, but this is my instinct, too. The company doesn’t own the OP’s computer, so I don’t know why they’d have any ability to make demands like that.

              I’m also pretty sure lawful orders only apply to police. This is more like, are you contractually obligated to let them use your computer, and the reasonable answer is no.

          2. Susan*

            But it is not a lawful order; at least not as I understand the discussion. One cannot be unpaid for work not done, so all he or she really has to do is not install the software. If this company then refuses to pay this person, they are in the wrong and are the ones breaking the law. And I am not at all sure if it is legal for an employer to attempt to force employees to place spyware on their personal devices, at least in most states. It sounds to me like the company is entirely in the wrong, and they have not one leg upon which to stand. I could be missing something, though?

            1. Random Commenter*

              Based on Allison’s comments, it’s probably legal to tell them to install the software.
              So ordering them to install the software is a lawful order, and the employer can fire them for not following that order.

            2. Sharikacat*

              Here’s how the order of events would go, as I read it. . .

              Company: “Install our spyware on your personal PC until the work laptop arrives.”
              Employee: Disregards and does their normal work anyway.
              Company: Once realizing the spyware isn’t installed, “Cease work until the spyware is installed,” and pays the employee for time worked so far.
              Employee: Disregards and does their normal work anyway.
              Company: Fires employee for insubordination and pays them for time worked. Employee has then been fired for cause and may lose if their unemployment claim is contested.

              1. JSPA*

                Eh, or,

                Company: “Install our spyware on your personal PC until the work laptop arrives.”
                Employee: Disregards and does their normal work anyway.

                Company: Once realizing the spyware isn’t installed, “Cease work until the spyware is installed,” and pays the employee for time worked so far.

                Employee: “I think it’s not compatible with my system, or maybe it’s because the internet is so slow here due to everyone being on it at once. Let me try again early Sunday, when demands on bandwidth are lower.”

                Company: “We really need you to install it now.”

                Employee: “I’m trying. But as you can see, I’m still doing [metric for work performed]. If you’re worried about anything other than efficiency, can you let me know, in case there’s another workaround until I can get the install to work?”

                Company: “it’s also a security thing. We want to see that you are working, but we also need to know you don’t have recording software of your own, to protect customer privacy.”

                Employee: “Until the new computers arrive, how about I take and send you an occasional screen shot, manually?”

                Company: “That’s not adequate.”

                Employee: “Well, I’ll keep trying, and I’ll also prioritize finishing [list of jobs you both know really needs to be done]. I’m running this past [other people] in case they have a work-around. Then if I have to take LWOP until the new computers come, or I can get this installed, at least that will be finished.”

                Employee: sends detailed email to many people, asking for installation tips and work arounds, and saying that they’ll keep working and trying to install, but could people get back to them with ideas in the next 48 hours or so.

                Company: “Has it worked?”

                Employee: “I’ve asked people for installation tips and work arounds. Not many responses yet. Let me give it 48 hours, and see if anyone can help.”

                Basically, signal willingness. Delay constructively. Continue to do excellent work. Bend over backwards in all ways except for doing the actual install. Keep pushing off the hard “no,” on their side and on yours. Make it clear you don’t blame the person communicating with you for the new rule, and you understand that you may have to take LWOP for this silly technical problem.

          3. Aitch Arr*

            In my 20+ years of experience in Massachusetts, only if the employee was fired for gross misconduct[1] would they be denied UI.

            [1]: in the situations I am aware of because I was the HR BP: the employee was fired for depositing her boss’ honorarium checks into her account; the employee was fired for viewing underage **** at work.

        2. Woodsy*

          A small objection to characterizing CA and other states as “lax” in deciding qualifications for UI. In my experience, they recognize that all the power is with the employer and are careful to not always take the employer’s word about the reason for separation. They also recognize that some conditions exist where an employee has no choice. There’s always an interview when there’s a question and the employee has a chance to present their case and, if denied, appeal. In any event, I think I’d call it more understanding of the employee/employer relationship and not lax.

      3. CupcakeCounter*

        OP asked about whether or not they can collect UI if fired and the answer you provided talked about quitting. I didn’t see anything where OP was going to quit – they were concerned about getting fired – and I think NJ Anon was basing their comment on that distinction.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Sorry, I meant to word it as taking a stand over something, not quitting. Have fixed the answer. (Typing is still an ordeal re: mangled finger and I am using voice-to-text software that makes everything a slog. Trying to catch mistakes but clearly missing some.)

          1. CupcakeCounter*

            Jeez…with everything going on I totally forgot about your finger!
            Hope its healing well.

      4. NJ Anon*

        She asked if she could collect if she got fired. You responded as if she asked if she could collect if she quit.

      5. Employment Lawyer*

        The problem is that things like firing or firing “for cause” are both common terms and also legal terms of art. Which is to say: The concept of getting fired “for cause” is something that has multiple definitions across both legal and common usage and the employers tend to exploit that difference. (This is a common problem in law, e.g. where people don’t understand that the legal term “harassment” means something very different from the layperson’s term.)

        Example: Bob is just incompetent, so Bob gets fired.
        Q: Would Bob’s employer (and maybe even Bob) say he was fired “for cause?”
        A: Yes: Bob was a bad employee. He was fired because he was a bad employee, ergo for cause.

        Q: Is that the same definitional usage of “for cause” as used in the context of unemployment laws that deny UE to people fired “for cause?”
        A: No. Bob is probably eligible for UE. In many places, mere incompetence is NOT a qualifying “cause”.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Totally agree — but that’s performance. Outside of performance, UI has stuff that they see as very black-and-white and will usually deny over, like absenteeism, insubordination, etc.

          1. old curmudgeon*

            It still can depend a lot on the state, and at least in my state, the presumption is generally in favor of the employee. If an employer in our state contests UI being paid with a claim that the person was “fired for cause,” the claimant can appeal several levels up, and at least in the cases that I have looked at, our state’s review commission takes a very dim view of employers who try shenanigans like this.

            That said, there is enormous variation in the way states apply UI laws, so seek guidance from your state’s labor agency to be sure. I saw a recent story in the WaPo that one state has such rigorous requirements that only about 20% of people laid off due to COVID qualify for UI, which frankly appalls me. Doesn’t surprise me, but does appall me.

            1. HM MM*

              This seemed to be the case in my state (NY) – that the presumption is generally in favor of the employee.

              My story – I worked at a startup that had run through its funding. I got pulled into a meeting with my boss. Was told my position was being eliminated. I filed for unemployment and selected that I had been laid off due to a lack of work. I start getting benefits, but then I get a letter saying the company was contesting my claim because they said that I had been fired for cause, cause being negligence (or gross negligence – i don’t remember the exact wording). I had to fill out a questionnaire with a bunch of stuff about the circumstances surrounding my termination. I was asked things like: was I told what policy I had broken, had I received any prior warnings (and if so, in what form), had I received any feedback about this issue prior, did I have access to an employee handbook/clear policies, etc)

              I thankfully had emails saved that had in writing that my boss was pleased with my performance up until a week or two before being laid off, so I thought I’d have a strong case, but I never even had to provide them. Apparently the company was the one who had the burden of proof, and they obviously had none.

              Basically it was my understanding the company would have had to prove what policy I had broken, and might have even required that I received some sort of warning prior to being let go if the state did not believe the reason for cause was serious enough to warrant immediate dismissal. (I think this because there were multiple questions about what sort of warning I received).

              Unfortunately I think less states are pro-employee than are pro-employer, so I’d guess its more likely that this wouldn’t qualify the LW for unemployment, however – I don’t think its black and white and it might be worth contacting someone with experience/knowledge about their individual state’s approach/laws.

      6. Thankful for AAM*

        This is where you tell them you dont have a personal computer, you just uae your smartphone and cannot use that for work.

  2. Mill Miker*

    Ugh. The cynic in me can’t shake the feeling that if you do end up working without the software, they’ll still try and not pay you on the basis that without the spy software, they have no “proof” you actually worked those days.

    1. Desk-Nail-Clipperer*

      Yes, I’d be worried about that too, so I’d take pro-active steps to ensure I had proof I was working. Screenshots, emails with timestamps, saving IM logs, following up on phonecalls with emails. Hope that you won’t need it, but if you do at least you’ve got it.

    2. KHB*

      But surely you can demonstrate that the work you were supposed to do on those days is now done? I mean, there’s no “proof” that you were looking perfectly busy during every hour of every day, but if there’s really no way to tell whether someone was working or not working for several days at a time without spying on them, that seems like a bigger problem than this.

    3. NerdyKris*

      If work was being done, emails were being sent out, etc., then that’s proof enough for the labor board. You’d have a hard time claiming an employee wasn’t working when they’re logging into your systems and doing whatever they normally do during a workday just because you don’t have screenshots.

    4. Nea*

      I’m paranoid in a different direction. My gut tells me that once the software is on their employees’ personal equipment they’ll announce that there’s no need for work computers to be sent anymore.

      1. Arts Akimbo*

        This is where my mind went, too. Why shoulder the cost of doing business when you can pass it on to the employees? /s

      2. Harper the Other One*

        Oof, I’d like to believe you’re wrong but I’d lay odds you’re right.

  3. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Many years ago, I read a story on the Daily WTF about a very paranoid and controlling boss who secretly asked IT to set up a mechanism where he was copied on every single email that every one of his employees sent. Every. Single. One. What ended up happening is that emails were literally disappearing out of employees’ inboxes, and they started to freak out because they thought someone had remote access to their machines. Turns out that when the boss made this request, he had no idea his inbox would be inundated with so many emails, in addition to his own, so he started mass deleting them to make his inbox manageable, which made those emails disappear from the inboxes of everyone else too! Boss had to cop to what he’d done.

    My point being that if you have even a few employees, this software is going to capture so much information that it makes the spying fruitless. No one would have the time to go through every URL you visited or however many screenshots the thing takes or keystrokes or whatever. For example, my employer uses Gmail and I send about 150+ emails a day. Can you imagine what my URL history is going to look like? That doesn’t even count all the stuff I put and and take off my calendar.

    I’m not defending this practice. Quite the contrary. I’m saying it’s a complete waste of time and money on the employer’s part because they’ll get so much information that the entire effort is pointless unless they want to pay someone to do nothing but scan all employees’ activity. Plus if employees KNOW about the software, well I can’t imagine they’d be inclined to visit Facebook or AAM or some other non-work thing.

    As a manager, I have enough stuff to do. If I had to monitor my staff on this level, I’d tear my hair out.

    1. Fikly*

      …That’s not the issue? And why the LW is fine with it being on a work laptop. The issue is they don’t want this on their personal laptop, where they presumably enter things like passwords for bank accounts and other very sensitive information.

      The potential for abuse is vast.

      1. boo bot*

        Personal passwords, social media accounts, personal email, photos, documents… it’s basically giving your employer free access to every aspect of your personal life, presumably including your webcam.

        If I really had to install this or lose my job, I would either delete everything off my computer first, or I would buy the cheapest laptop I could find and let the company invade that one. Neither of those things is a reasonable thing to have to do just to keep your job.

      2. Sharikacat*

        Snarkus is merely pointing out one very good reason that this is a terrible idea *from the viewpoint of the employer.* Employees can offer dozens of valid reasons why it would be terrible for them personally to allow this to happen, but if the boss ultimately sees a benefit for themselves, then they’re likely to proceed with the idea anyway. The drawback for the boss is that either there is no follow-up due to the vast log of info to sift through, which makes the entire idea pointless (unless you want to rely on just the appearance of oversight. . . so intimidation) or the cost of actually looking for wasted time/resources becomes an exercise in wasting time/resources in itself.

        1. Fikly*

          But that’s only a reason that the spyware would be ineffective for the stated purpose. Are you are trusting that a company that is requiring everyone, on pain of firing, to install spyware on their personal laptop is being honest about the reasons why?

    2. MK*

      That actually would make it worse, because if it is useless, it’s just a way to intimidate people.

      1. James*

        The company doesn’t have the resources to use it–but malicious actors DO. There’s a reason that they hack major databases: folks who steal identities are set up to handle large amounts of personal data and turn it into a black marketable commodity. It’s what they do, and they’re fairly good at it.

        There is no company on Earth with a secure enough network to avoid having this information leaked. And an employer who is requiring this sort of software on your personal devices is not the type to let you know if your personal information has been compromised.

        This sort of thing isn’t quite like posting your social security number on a billboard, but it may not be too far off either.

      2. Batgirl*

        Most surveillance boils down to “I hope this intimidation is motivating” because it’s a poor way of obtaining actual data. Look at the damn output! I don’t understand why they don’t just simply put a big brother poster screenshot up.

      3. Observer*

        Either that or just stupid and bad management. I’ve heard more than one story of an employer trying stuff like this and then back tracking because no one had realized how badly it would go.

    3. winter frog*

      I don’t think there is any security for the OP in knowing the boss will be inundated with information. As long as the data is logged, it is searchable at any time now or in the future, whether manually or with computer assistance.

    4. Not a cat*

      I worked for a VP of Sales who did this. IT, however, warned new reps as a matter of course, resulting in emails sent from Gmail, SalesForce not getting updated and general chaos. CEO (VP’s wife) had IT stop the practice.

      1. Rovannen*

        I agree. Askamanager has been a gold mine for me; a sane professional development resource in an insane world. It also helps in my personal life….”so, have you tried x, y, or z….how’s that working for you…”

    5. Elenna*

      Turns out that when the boss made this request, he had no idea his inbox would be inundated with so many emails

      “Wait, you mean my employees actually… do work??? What a shock!”

      :P

    6. Quill*

      the problem is that the data can be mined after collection, and also, who knows what other virusy, spy-y, potentially bank account login stealing software came with it?

    7. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

      “My point being that if you have even a few employees, this software is going to capture so much information that it makes the spying fruitless. ”

      Not true. And also not relevant.

  4. Ferris*

    Very interesting that pre-virus AMA regularly said: “your manager is terrible”. Now we are seeing “your company is terrible”.

    Indeed, it shouldn’t surprise us — bad managers ultimately come from bad companies!

    1. Desk-Nail-Clipperer*

      I think it’s because the response to the COVID-19 situation will be dictated from the top down in most companies; individual managers will have little sway in the overall direction of hasty WFH policies and the like.

    2. Fikly*

      She’s still been saying your manager is terrible when there are decent company-wide policies for covid, but individual managers are violating them.

  5. Richard Hershberger*

    I love Alison’s #3. I am a big fan of creative incompetence in areas not actually related to your job. I remember one job I had in the ’80s where I carefully never let on that I am a good typist. My job wasn’t to type, but I figured out that if they found out I could, it very well might morph into a typing job, which I didn’t want.

    If you aren’t willing to play dumb, another approach is to claim hardware issues. In my case this might even be legit. My home computer is very old and creaky. We are having a hard time installing software so my kid can do school at home. It is bad enough that I am going to buy an entire new system. It clearly is time, and I am fortunate to be in a financial position where this is possible.

    1. SweetestCin*

      Momma-Cin taught me at an early age that if I know how to type, as a woman in a male dominated field, I will be relegated to a typist at best.

      People know me and know what I can do well before I let on to how quickly I can type. And granted, we’re approaching an overall changing of the guard in my industry (finally!), but she wasn’t incorrect, either. I’ve had to explain more than once that I’m an awful expensive secretary, sometimes to someone who isn’t even in my department.

    2. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Yes, but I’d worry that EvilCorp’s IT department would insist on trying to install it for the LW with LogMeIn or something similar if they offered that as an excuse. Faking failure of a remote desktop tool might be harder than just saying that something failed to install.

      1. Mel_05*

        Yeah, if our company was going to insist on doing this they’d just ask for remote access and have the IT guy do it.

          1. Miki*

            Funny thing: I work in library and our ILS (Voyager) is Windows only. I can’t catalog while I WFH as I only have my Macbook at home (there weren’t enough of laptops for everyone to take home, so it was either use your own or here is a couple of boxes of newspaper articles to sort through).
            SO it might be true (even now).
            I am waiting for us to switch to Alma (which is browser based ILS) sometime in June.

            1. Observer*

              I was talking specifically about software to reach the enterprise. And while I know that there is still lots of software that is Windows only, “most” is definitely not the case anymore.

            2. librarian #575675*

              we’re also voyager team with a laptop shortage (but not moving to alma) and one of my coworkers is *finally* getting crosstrained on some of the reporting i do because i don’t have my desktop but she does. she’s been asking for ages, so it’s a bit of a happy accident.

      1. Joe*

        I genuinely had exactly that problem when we moved to work-from-home a couple of weeks ago. Most of my colleagues have laptops, but I am still on a desktop at work. My personal laptop runs linux. Our remote-desktop software is compatible with Windows and macOS only. I was quickly assigned a laptop when I pointed this out.

        (If the spyware runs on Linux, which is unlikely but possible, OP could claim to use another unixlike, such as BSD, or not have a laptop at all.)

      2. librarian #575675*

        i, uh, graciously offered to use my personal laptop for wfh for this exact reason. i felt very smug until i realized they rolled out teams for linux first….

    3. Panthera uncia*

      75% of why I still have a garbage PAYG dumb phone (that rarely gets service) is that people with smart phones are expected to link up their work e-mail and be available 24-7.

    4. Saberise*

      She may need to be careful on that though. One of the requirements of our being able to WFH was that we had the means to WFH otherwise we would have to use PTO or go without pay. If they consider this a requirement she may find herself in that boat.

    5. CyndiLou Who*

      Reminds me of a job I had in the 80s, too. I was purchasing agent at an electronics firm and happened to walk into the conference room for something while CEO was in there. He asked me to make coffee for an upcoming meeting because the receptionist wasn’t at her desk (!) – it was one of those old Bunn coffeemakers that I’d never used before. I poured the water in like at home and it came cascading out the bottom all over everything. I hadn’t turned the heated part on yet because I hadn’t yet put the pot underneath. Apparently that model ran the water through without the element being turned on. I just looked at CEO and said, “Well, I guess not all women automatically know how to make coffee!” It was glorious.

    6. TardyTardis*

      I have more than one laptop. I am definitely not going to use the newest, best one for this…

  6. RUKiddingMe*

    We need a list of the names of these companies. Eventually this will all be over. We need to know who the bad actors are.

    1. Aaron*

      That’s what I came here to say. We should be outing these companies and bringing as much public shame as possible.

    2. Archaeopteryx*

      I was just going to say- someone good at web design and fact checking should make a centralized database of news stories about companies behaving badly in response to the coronavirus.

      It could be grouped by both company name and type of malfeasance – that way companies who get outed early on won’t have the comfort of knowing that the news cycle will move on and people will forget what they did.

  7. AppleStan*

    Can I just say that a part of me is secretly gleeful that Alison used the word sh*tty? I don’t know why, but it gave me a little extra tickle. Thank you, Alison.

    And yes, OP, your company is sh*tty. You will probably have much better luck if you all band together as a group and push back.

    1. Mr. Shark*

      haha, I agree. Maybe it just signals that the gloves are off…she’s not trying to say things politely, but calling them out plainly (she does anyway, but it’s always a little more forceful when you swear)

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Gloves have to be off right now! (Well, really, I guess we should all be wearing gloves and masks but…) But really, I’m pissed off and I believe it’s a social good to use whatever platform I have to call this stuff out.

  8. I Will Steal Your Pens*

    UGH – Why do companies even require you to provide your own equipment? If they have the means to send laptops to download software they surely have the means to provide you the tools to do your job. This bothers me more than the whole “pay for your own expenses and we’ll pay you back” BS, as well as the whole “we need you to use your own phone for business purposes”. IDGAF if you do get the miles or the tax break for using your own equipment.

    I concur with Allison – your company sucks.

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      I kind of understand it in this instance. Everyone transitioned to remote really suddenly, and having it take a week or even longer to get everyone a company laptop delivered to their home is not really a sign that the company is terrible and incompetent.

      Requiring people to install monitoring software on their personal devices is definitely a sign the company is terrible and incompetent.

      1. Count Boochie Flagrante*

        Yeah, this.

        My company is getting as many people to WFH as possible, but we are talking 20,000+ people, many of whom don’t have good home setups. That is a hell of a lot of laptops to move! We have had to prioritize who gets a laptop first (must WFH due to risk, does not have a home computer) and then rolling out to others as quickly as we can.

        But there’s the logistical issue — getting laptops in people’s hands — and the good management issue — installing overreaching ugly spyware on people’s personal devices!! These are separate things.

        1. J.B.*

          Not to mention, that if the company hasn’t managed to get you your laptop yet, perhaps they could extend a little bit of grace to the employees whose lives have been upended!

    2. CupcakeCounter*

      I’m guessing that they have company desktop computers on-site and people are using their personal devices in the interim until the company can get company equipment out to everyone. That is what my old company had to do last week after the governor shut down our state. One of my old coworkers actually took her entire desktop setup home because her personal laptop can’t handle the workload (plus her kids now need it for school) and her BF works in the IT department and helped with the setup. They still have a lot of people going in until the new equipment is delivered (trucking so considered essential).

      1. J*

        When I started WFH week before last, I hauled my whole desktop home– tower, keyboard, two monitors, drawing tablet, the whole shebang. Everyone thought I was a bit nuts because it was “only” supposed to be two weeks. Well, we just got word today it’s at least through end of April. I am SO grateful to have my whole machine here. There’s no way I could be working effectively on the crappy old laptop they wanted to send me home with for the last two weeks, let alone the upcoming month. (I just wish I’d thought to bring my office chair…)

    3. Random Commenter*

      It sounds like they ARE providing equipment, just not immediately. That’s pretty fair considering there’s a lot going on it and it takes time to ship computers to a bunch of different locations.

      1. Fikly*

        The cost of overnighting a laptop to each employee, compared to the cost of paying the employees for each day they are unable to work due to lack of laptop, is negligible.

        The company can lower the cost, if they are really concerned, by requiring them to use personal laptops, until the work laptops arrive via a cheaper shipping means. By adding the spyware requirement to personal laptops, they are going waaaaay beyond fair.

        1. Count Boochie Flagrante*

          Okay, but overnighting the laptop is only the last step of the process. There’s the company getting the laptop from the supplier, their IT folks getting it set up with the needed software and accesses, then overnighting it to the employee.

          1. Fikly*

            But they all had laptops at work. The LW refers to them as “the company laptops.” If they were being purchased new, they would be the new laptops, or something similar.

            And there’s no need for IT to get them set up with the spyware if it’s completely possible for all the employees to set up the spyware on their own on their personal laptops.

            You are imaginging this to be a far lengthier and more complicated process than it is.

        2. Lora*

          Especially considering that another solution to “how do we know employees are working for real?” is “email them sometimes, ask them to send a draft of their Excel sheet or whatever it is that they are working on, and then get over it.”

          I have a lot of very strong opinions about management “problems” that can in fact be resolved by the manager having a glass of wine and a hot bath.

      2. boo bot*

        I’m skeptical that they will actually end up providing the equipment. If everyone installs the spy software on their personal computers, then the company’s immediate needs are met, and it’s going to be a lot less urgent to get the company laptops shipped out. I don’t mean that’s been the secret plan all along or anything, just that if things are hectic, a solution that’s “good enough” is likely to stay that way.

        I think this is all the more reason for the OP to avoid installing the spy software on their home computer – you might end up having it on there for longer than you expected.

        1. Mr. Shark*

          That’s a fair point. Since no one knows how long this will last, but we assume it’s temporary, why would the company spend all that money on new laptops if it thinks it can get away with people using their home laptops and installing the spyware?
          A company that thinks that installing the spyware is an effective way of keeping track of people’s time and work is the kind of company who probably will not work very hard to send everyone a work laptop if they think this will end in a month.

      3. Emma the Strange*

        Plus, everyone’s ordering WFH equipment all at once right now, so it’s taking longer than it would normally. For example, my company bought me a monitor, but it took a week and a half for it to arrive because of hipping backlogs.

  9. EPLawyer*

    Companies are going sooooo overboard on the “but but but how will we know people are actually working in this emergency.” The same damn way you knew they were working the office. Are the tasks getting done or not? As someone said about the video on all day letter – you don’t stand over them ever second in the office, you don’t need to do it now.

    You can really tell the companies that HATE the idea of telework. That are so micromanagy they just cannot exist without monitoring every second of their employees.

    1. CupcakeCounter*

      This was my old company and that stance was why I left. New company sent everyone to WFH weeks before the governor declared shelter in place.

    2. Guacamole Bob*

      Seriously. And also, I know a lot of companies are on shaky ground financially, but if there were ever a time when the moral thing to do would be to grant employees flexibility, it would be now.

      Focus on whether the essential stuff is getting done. Stay in touch with employees and you’ll be able to tell whether people are doing the best they can. It’s not that hard to be decent.

    3. A Simple Narwhal*

      My company was apparently super hesitant to approve remote work in the past. They apparently didn’t allow it ever (even though a majority of jobs could be done remotely), and only in recent years started allowing it once a month and inching it up to once a week by the time I started, mostly because they were losing people due to inflexible policies.

      We’ve been 100% remote for about 2-3 weeks now and we keep getting messages from the higher ups applauding everyone on how productive everyone has been and thanking them for their hard work – maybe they’re truly trying to be complimentary in trying times but there’s definitely an undertone of “omg did you know remote work actually works??”.

      We’re hoping this leads to them being even more flexible in the future since this without a doubt proves that remote work is possible and productive.

    4. Elizabeth West*

      I just added “including via telework” to my LinkedIn profile’s “I’m looking for roles in X area and would also consider Y and Z.” That ought to weed some of them out.

      I would move, and I like going into the office. But especially after a fricking pandemic, I don’t want to end up at a butt-in-seat company that doesn’t care if I live or die.

    5. Anon for this*

      As a consequence of the majority of us now working from home, our newish director of our university library system, has put us all on an enterprise version of Slack. Great.

      We have learned that the reason she wanted this is because they’ll be able to read everyone’s DMs. She apparently thinks this is a positive feature.

      1. Not a cat*

        If memory serves the output is pretty messy to read. They may have cleaned that up, however.

    6. Random IT person*

      Actually – checking if people are working at home is dead easy.
      – send a mail with a (legit) request. see how fast they reply.
      – use skype (for business) or MS teams or something to talk to users (or call)
      – check their output

      All of this without the spyware – and lets be honest – you cannot call it anything else.
      As IT person with a degree in Paranoia my first question is WHO can see what is being captured, what EXACTLY is being captured, and WHERE will the info be stored?
      Add to that – what if my work has sensitive parts? Private information (in my case, it does, user passwords etc.) or confidential info (recovering lost data, sometimes this has medical info – can you imagine a screenshot of that leaking).

      Seriously – any company that considers this, should reconsider.
      ANy company that requires this – is insane. Seriously bonkers. Totally nuts!
      If you can – run away. If you cannot – fight back by pretending being stupid (my boyfriend set up HIS laptop for me to use, but not allowed to install anything)…

      Any manager that wants to mandata this spyware: you – personally – suck!

  10. JJ Bittenbinder*

    We sure are learning a lot about how shitty some companies are! I suppose none of it is terribly surprising, but it’s still awfully depressing.

    We sure are. I’m compiling a “vote with my wallet” list (for personal use and sharing with friends and family; not a “blast people on social media” thing) and I’ve heard some doozies. I don’t add anyone to my list without primary source verification, so it’s not like I’m taking my landlord’s hairdresser’s cousin’s word, either.

    Luckily, I am also able to place some companies on the “hero” side of the list, but the balance is tipping every day.

    1. A Simple Narwhal*

      That’s smart! I should start doing that too, I’ve heard enough bad behavior from companies that I definitely don’t want to patronize anymore.

  11. GrayHat*

    If there is a significant delay in shipment of laptops to you, I would ask the company if they would reimburse you for a cheap device (like a chromebook or something) instead that could be shipped quickly to you from Amazon or the like. It’s totally unreasonable for them to ask you to install this software on a personal device.

    All that said, if you have no other option, I wonder if you could solve this problem by creating a separate “work” username/account on your personal device, on which there are no non-company apps or anything. This would essentially be a “guest” account on your personal device. Whether this would work would depend on the software in question, though.

    1. Ginar369*

      The problem with that is especially on Windows is that the new user profile can still see all the files on the computer hard drive. It doesn’t separate those. So they would still be able to see things they shouldn’t.

      1. Lady Heather*

        This reminds me. My password-protected Windows computer crashed last autumn, and I wanted to try to get it working again or at least get my files off.

        My father played it with for an hour, made a bootable USB with Ubuntu, and it started up the PC just fine and gave access to all my data (that wasn’t on the partition that had crashed) without ever using the password. It was one of those BUT I HAD A PASSWORD! moments that made me feel very unsafe before I realized that there are many, many, many more severe ways my privacy is being violated every second of every day and the data on my laptop is still very safe.

        (It still freaks me out when I think about it. I HAVE A PASSWORD!)

        1. TiffIf*

          Look into encrypting your harddrive!

          I encrypted my entire harddrive on a computer that I subsequently accidentally murdered. I was able to remove the harddrive and connect it to another computer, but because it was encrypted the other computer couldn’t read it at all (It kept asking if I wanted to reformat the drive–NO!) –and I couldn’t figure out how to decrypt it even though I knew the password. I finally remembered which program I had used to encrypt it which I could then install on computer 2 in order for it to detect and decrypt the harddrive and then I could access everything.

    2. PatrickStar*

      I’d see if you are able to remotely connect to your work computer and then have the spy software installed on your work computer. Then all it would show is what’s going on with your work computer.

      Another option would be as GrayHat said, create another user account on your computer. Set it as a Standard User (not an administrator), and by doing so that account won’t have access to files in your other user account folders. It will have access to items on your hard drive (e.g. C:\Temp, C:\Dell, C:\Windows), but at least not access to items on your current profile (e.g. C:\Users\OP\Pictures).

      After creating this user profile, you can run through the installation and it *might* give you the option to choose “for this user only” when installing. If it doesn’t… I’d probably stop there and see if you can pick up your work computer or purchase something cheap. If it does allow for that, you’ll need to use your original account to authorize the installation, but that would give me confidence the only thing they’re seeing is this new user profile stuff.

      still.. ewww

  12. Flip*

    What computer? I don’t have no computer! I only have a phone, and its an old flip phone at that!

    1. A Simple Narwhal*

      A flip phone, how extravagant! I’ve got a shiny rotary phone, you don’t even have to talk to an operator anymore!

    2. James*

      I’ve had that conversation many, many times.

      “Just download the app on your phone.”
      “I can’t. I have a flip phone.”
      “No, seriously, it’s easy, I’ll show you.”
      “No, seriously, here’s my phone. I don’t do apps.”
      “How can you LIVE like this?!”

      1. Jennifer Juniper*

        Yay! I’m also part of the counterculture! I don’t have a smart phone – and I refuse to get one. I don’t need anything distracting me as I’m on my grocery run. Or something to tempt thieves…

  13. Mazzy*

    My work setup and screens and cords has taken over my desk, and I am not switching out my personal and work computer every day, so have been using my work computer for loads of personal stuff. I figure if it comes up, I’ll tell them what I’ve been doing and to look at time stamps.

  14. Elizabeth West*

    ARRRRRGGHHHHHH

    *adds this to list of interview questions: “Is working remotely new for you due to COVID-19, and if so, how do/does [hiring manager] [your company] supervise that?”

  15. Ginar369*

    You could also do the “My personal computer is an older model with older software. The program doesn’t work on it.”

      1. James*

        “This won’t work with my spouse’s antivirus software.” That way they can’t come back with a mandatory company antivirus program. Doesn’t work so well if you don’t have a spouse, though.

      2. Little Miss Cranky Pants*

        This can actually be true. I had a terrible time getting access to a former employer’s VPN with my antivirus/firewall/adblocker that rhymes with, er, piper. :) The IT guys finally told me, just turn off your firewall.

        Um, no. Give me a company laptop, thanks anyway. They never did and I ended up quitting that shitty job before it became an issue again. However, a dark part of me is quite, quite gleeful to hear that that company is now *experimenting* with WFH but they’re having, aw, hear this, a terrible time trying to figure out how to manage with the hard copy writing and editing process.

        Hard copy, I shit you not.

        1. AnonEMoose*

          In my experience, the best lies/excuses have at least some truth to them! And antivirus software is notoriously picky about this kind of stuff (which I personally prefer to think of as a feature, not a bug). And considering I just paid for another two years of the one I use, I would not be open to suggestions of replacing it with something that would place nice with the spyware…nor would I particularly trust anti-virus that plays nicely with spyware of any description!

          1. Mongrel*

            Another thing to try if people are technically inclined…
            Many cable modems have firewalls that you can use to block access to the internet for individual programs. As long as you know what the software’s called you should be able to install it but stop it reporting…
            Just Google the manual for your cable modem, it’ll probably have a sticker on the bottom with a serial number, so just search for “{Your ISP} modem {Serial Number} manual” to find out if you can\how to do it.
            You can also (manually) block this with your Anti-Virus\malware software but that’ll be easier to find if they want to push it. Although you can then go for indignation “I don’t feel comfortable overriding something my AV has blocked as a threat”
            There’s at least one other, easy, way that could work but you’d need someone who’s better at networking tools than me* to pull it off (Find where it’s sending the info and block it in your HOSTS file)

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Yup – I ended up on the higher list for company equipment with the magical words “my home set-up is a Mac, will that be comparable?”

      (Free answer – no it wasn’t because one of our work programs is an ancient DOS based system….)

    2. Random IT person*

      Or, i use my boyfriend/partner/husband/wife/signigicant others laptop – and do not have permission to install software on it.

  16. Monty & Millie's Mom*

    Regarding unemployment: definitely risky, and because of the huge backlog going on in every state right now, possibly not really worth it. If you did file, it will likely be many weeks before your case is even looked at, and you may not even qualify after all that. And if you file for just the one week before you got the company laptop, it may be a waiting week, depending on your state (not all states have a waiting week, but of those that do, not all have waived them during this time).

    1. Mazzy*

      Yes, just looked it up to make sure it’s really happening and it is. They say the #s this week will spike anywhere between 200K and 1.97M. Yeah, not specific, but huge backlogs and spikes.

  17. Wendy*

    If they still have the company laptops, why wouldn’t the company just install the software on them before they ship them out?

    1. Fikly*

      The issue is that they want the software installed on the personal laptops employees are using until the work laptops arrive.

    2. SomebodyElse*

      My guess is that they are purchasing the laptops and having them drop shipped to the employee’s homes.

      1. Duvie*

        My guess is that once the company forces everyone to upload their spyware the laptops will suddenly be “delayed”, and then, since everything is going tickety-boo without them, they’ll be cancelled. (I’d like to say I’m just cynical, but I’ve had this happen twice, once with smartphones and once with laptops.)

  18. Employment Lawyer*

    One option is to install and uninstall it daily. Yes, it’ll add 5-10 minutes on each end but there’s no risk of firing and no risk of security. That’s the wise solution and you can probably live with it until you get a work laptop.

    If you plain old refuse to do it then you can get fired and possibly denied UE because “installing software” will be considered to be a reasonable request and you are refusing.

    Note that if it isn’t your computer, don’t forget to ask the actual owner. You can’t install software like that on someone else’s machine without their permission, and they may not agree to grant permission (hint, hint.)

    If you opt to lie, which is always high-risk (you can DEFINITELY get fired for lying!) be smart about it.

    1. Lady Heather*

      I have heard (here on AAM) of ‘consensual spyware’ that you can’t uninstall without the company’s consent because it has a master password or similar. Before you go that route, definitely look into that.

      (And the ‘ask the actual owner’ is absolutely genius.)

    2. Fikly*

      If you trust spyware to remove itself completely upon being unstalled, well, you are very trusting.

      1. Mongrel*

        The Deep Freeze software package has a 30 day free trial…

        Just sayin’ ;)

        Although EASEUS makes some very easy to use clone\backup software as well

    3. Random IT person*

      How about privacy etc?
      What if they screenshot some medical thing, some financial thing.

      Is it reasonable to ask:
      WHO (has access to this data)
      WHAT (exactly are you capturing)
      WHERE (will this information be stored)
      and, are they required to provide this information? (In Europe / EU this type of software runs foul of GDPR .. but US might not have protections like that)

    4. Keymaster of Gozer*

      It’s still too risky. Programs like that leave behind a LOT of stuff when uninstalled and unless you’re skilled at registry modifying etc. you’ll never get rid of it all.

      Also, I’d bet that giving my employer 24/7 views of my personal computer breaks all kinds of data protection. There is stuff on there that isn’t safe for work.

  19. nm*

    Very topical, as one of my professors wants us to install something similar so she can make sure we’re not cheating on exams. I don’t even object to *her* having access to my data, so much as I’m concerned about the amount of information the browser company is collecting about me.

    Most professors in my department are dealing with the situation by rewriting their exams to be open-book, but I guess watching 30 hours of video of students taking a regular exam is easier for her…

      1. nm*

        Yes; our department has a version installed in on-campus computers which does *not* use video, but this particular professor has specified we must be on-camera.
        I’m in machine learning so it’s not really my area, but the cybersecurity phds in the department are all going “NOOOOOO” which seems like a red flag to me…

        1. Observer*

          On Camera? At home? Is she out her mind?!

          Someone should kick this upstairs – If I were in the school’s IT department, I would NOT want to touch this with a 20′ pole.

    1. Libervermis*

      I keep encouraging my colleagues to go the open-book exam route but some are just so determined that they must watch the student take the exam. Who has the time?!

      1. Paulina*

        My university has directed faculty to consider that exams in the current WFH situation are all open-book, and design accordingly.

        We’re also told to consider that students may have limited computer and internet resources, and may be sharing these with other students in the household. Even synchronous exams are potentially a problem. It’s not what we’d like, since there’s certainly significant potential for cheating, but ideals must bow to reality here. For school, as for many of these work situations, we’re not providing the space and infrastructure right now so we have to deal with whatever people have.

    2. Gumby*

      Yikes! And yet another reason that I love having gone to a college with a robust honor code. Professors couldn’t even be in the room for in-person exams so no way this would fly. (They usually set up in a nearby room and let everyone know where we could find them for questions.) And take home exams have to be open book.

      1. SC*

        Yes! I went to a college with a robust honor code for undergrad. We still took exams in bluebooks way back then, mostly closed-book in the main academic building, but they were all self-scheduled and unproctored. It was an amazing perk.

        I went to a law school where every exam except one was open book. Many were on lockdown software, with whatever we could bring in with us, but some were take-home. Access to outside information could be useful (that time one quarter of the exam was about a case I hadn’t actually read yet) or a complete distraction.

        I firmly believe that if a professor writes a good exam, students’ access to outside information won’t prevent them from sorting themselves into As, Bs, Cs, and Fs, and you’ll be able to tell if two students cheat and communicate about the exam. Even in that instance I hadn’t read the case until the exam, I was able to skim it and discuss it using the principles we’d discussed all semester. I got an A because I’d done the majority of the reading and generally paid attention and wasn’t penalized down to a C for not knowing the specifics of one of dozens of cases we were assigned. That’s how it should work.

        1. TardyTardis*

          My last tax preparer exam was sort of proctored–you signed into the exam area, took all your materials (open book, hallelujah!, especially since I read *really really fast*), and signed out sans anything but yourself for bathroom/chocolate/caffeine breaks. I suppose the clerk at the front looked into my tiny cubicle room every once in a while, but I was too busy to notice, and since it was open book, I think I even got to keep my phone. Besides, we pinged irs.gov five or six times a day at actual work anyway. Plus, a searchable Publication 17 is definitely your friend.

          That being said, I am super glad I didn’t do tax work *this* season. The office is too small and open plan to do personal distancing anyway, and since most of our work is done with clients, WFH can best be described as awkward.

  20. Thankful for AAM*

    This is where you tell the employer that you dont own a computer. My friend is a boss organizing WFH and a surprising number of staff do not own computers. My husband is a prof and he has learned quite a few studenta dont either though we are in a very affluent area.

    1. Amethystmoon*

      Right, some people do own tablets only these days but not computers. Computers aren’t really necessary any more except for work and maybe if you’re into playing super leet video games, which then they get expensive. I gave up on the super leet video games when I was in my 30’s and went back for my MBA and no longer had time to play.

    2. Lynn*

      My employer was having trouble as they weren’t prepared for the number of workers trying to VPN into the network at the same time. Tried to switch from using work computers at home to using a personal computer at home to remote into your work computer. Technically, I own a laptop. But it’s old and glitchy. I just told them I don’t have a computer to use, so they needed to get me set up.

  21. HelloHello*

    I know this isn’t helpful to you now, but letter writer (and anyone else whose boss/company is pulling shenanigans like this) PLEASE write a glassdoor review. The world needs to know which companies to avoid after this all subsides.

  22. AnotherAnon*

    I’m wondering if there is some other loophole when companies try this. For instance, I save personal medical information on my computer, and other things that qualify as protected information. Can a case not be made that they may be inadvertently violating other rights of employees by having unfettered access to personal information?

    1. Meyers and Briggs were not real doctors*

      THIS. !! Finally someone here said it!

      NEVER trust your company (or your company’s IT dept) to keep your personal health records safe.

      1. Random IT person*

        Hey, as IT person…
        We have strict privacy / confidentiality rules too (at least, at my company)
        Not as regulated as say, a doctors office – but we pride ourselves in being trustworthy, honest, and protect the privacy of our users.

        If an IT department doesn`t have this – they should. (maybe invest a bit more in your people).

        But – i`m more afraid of random managers demanding access than I am of my colleagues.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Or my household finances! The company doesn’t need to know what I spend on stuff.

    2. Observer*

      Technically, no.

      On the other hand, if I’m not mistaking at least in California, a company needs to pay you if they require that you use your own cell phone for work. I wonder if you could make a similar case if the company is requiring that you give them this much control of your computer?

    3. nonegiven*

      Can you install another instance of windows on a partition or a vm that the software is installed on, then once you get the work laptop, delete everything on the partition or vm?

  23. Reading between the lines*

    One could argue that installing spyware software on your home computer would put you in violation of various agreements you have with other companies. Your bank, for example, likely made you agree that you would not share your password with anyone. Spyware like this will record keystrokes and screenshots which would likely include your passwords.

    I have a pre-existing agreement that will not allow me to legally install your spyware.

  24. MissDisplaced*

    There is no way I’d allow any company to install spyware on my own personal computer to monitor my work.
    Nope. If they want this, it’s all on their own shit. And really? This opens the door to so many personal infringements.

  25. Corporate Goth*

    I’m only a little bit techie, but what about installing the software on a virtual machine until the company computer arrives?

    1. Admin of sys*

      That’s what I was going to suggest – if you have a windows machine, set up a hyper-v machine and just use the vm for work – install the spyware, whatever, it’ll only be able to see the virtual machine, not the main box. There are ways to do that with a mac, too, but idk much about it. Parallels would be my guess.

      1. boop the first*

        Heh, especially if the OS you use is something much older and slower. I keep a section of windows XP on mine so that I can still use TWAIN printers and scanners. The new software probably wouldn’t function very well on it! :D

        1. TardyTardis*

          No duh! They once tried to hook up Office 365 on my XP machine at work. It killed everything on the hard drive, including some personal stuff that is now irrecoverable. Still mad at them for that.

      2. nonegiven*

        My son uses vmware to install Linux on his work computer. He’s more comfortable programming with it but needs the Macbook for video conferences.

    2. Lorac*

      Yup, fellow techie, was also going to suggest that. There are a lot of free and helpful guides out there now, so it’s not terribly difficult. Just takes some time to figure it out.

  26. Jennifer Juniper*

    I’d go with Option 3, LW.

    How can they prove that you’re doing it on purpose? Sometimes software doesn’t install on your computer.

    And, with COVID-19 and sheltering-in-place/social distancing, they can’t send someone to your house to install the spyware for you. If they do that anyway, explain that you’re sorry, but you can’t let them in due to CDC guidelines.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I was just thinking that it’s likely a LOT of people have older-model personal computers at home. It would be understandable that newer software would not install or run on these.
      My desktop Mac is now 11 years old! I still use it, because it was expensive and I don’t need an update yet.

    2. Katrianah (UK)*

      They’d likely have someone remote in to install it unfortunately. Or at least try.

  27. nonethefewer*

    Our company had to rapidly transition to 100% WFH. We had several discussions of how to handle personal laptops accessing our network, given that we absolutely cannot have the users installing work software on their personal laptops. (We went with a jump box setup, I believe, and increased logging for our corp users so we’ll be alerted sooner if something goes awry.)

  28. nnn*

    If you choose to go with “you think you once set up something that blocks that kind of software and you don’t know how to undo it”, that could be enhanced by saying that someone else set it up. After all, you aren’t very good at this computer stuff, so you had an expert help you, and how that expert is quarantined elsewhere.

    For example, the expert could be your adult child/sibling/niece who lives in a different city. Or your ex-partner set it up, but the relationship has since ended.

    If they’re going to actually try to look at or remote into your computer, something you could do (if you haven’t already) is set up an account without admin privileges, and when it asks for the admin password to install the software you could claim not to have it. “I don’t know, that’s a thing that my [techie person who is conveniently incommunicado] set up so the computer can’t get hacked? I don’t really understand how it works.” (This could backfire if the spy software doesn’t require admin privileges to install. I don’t know if that’s possible.

  29. TeapotNinja*

    It’s your computer, so you can control anything that’s happening on it.

    You could just turn it off or uninstall it completely when not using the computer for work.

    You could set up the Windows firewall or pihole, or any other mechanism that blocks outbound or inbound traffic from/to your computer to simply block any traffic the spyware sends/receives. For most software packages the information on how to do that is just a google search away.

    And the nuclear option is to make sure the screenshots the software sends to the company to review is filled with material they would never want to see. Set your wallpaper to something truly offensive. Or leave a browser open for something similar. If they have a problem with that, you simply tell them it’s your personal computer used at home, so you do whatever you damn well please on it. Of you could profusely apologize and tell them you never meant them to see it, but since you’re spying on me what can you do?

    1. James*

      Unfortunately some programs are…sticky. They don’t let you remove them, or at least not easily. If you’re not really tech-savey completely removing the program every time may be overly onerous or even impossible.

      1. Wyrmskyld*

        That’s why I would combine this with an earlier suggestion. Create a virtual machine and suddenly develop a lot of unpleasant and NSFW interests. I’d be fairly protected, but they’d still get some passive aggressive punishment.

        1. KoiFeeder*

          I can recommend a lot of truly educational content about parasitism and cannibalism in the animal kingdom, for anyone who wants to take this route. :)

          1. James*

            If you want creepy, yet totally justifiable, look up body farms. They are the largest taphonomic experiment in history, VERY useful for paleontologists (taphonomy is the transfer of organic material from the biosphere to the lithosphere–basically the process of becoming a fossil). The problem, of course, is that you’re dealing with rotting human corpses. FYI, don’t ask for the data they gather unless you want to be flagged by the FBI. I thought it would be a good way to get info on how burning affects bones, which I was dealing with in a fossil setting. The FBI was less enthusiastic.

            Parasitism is good, too. I like to think that I’m pretty inured to the horrors of biology, but parasites….yeesh. I don’t mind the ones that just eat you, but the ones that take over your brain are too much for me. Again, this is a perfectly reasonable course of study–I know a few biologists who love this stuff. But anyone watching your screen will rapidly lose interest!

            1. KoiFeeder*

              …Well, I am now terribly curious about how burning affects the fossilization of bones.

    2. Fashionable Pumpkin*

      I thought about this. 9-5, all business, but as soon as 5:01 hits, log onto a porn website and autoplay all until 8:59 the next morning. My personal computer, my business how it’s used.

  30. JustaTech*

    Would it work to point out that the company is opening themselves up to potential liability by doing this? Like, if this program doesn’t turn off at the end of the work day and captures the employee, say, looking at the results of a medical test, isn’t there the risk of medical discrimination?
    I think that would only apply if the company fired someone, but would it be a useful way to phrase the rejection? “There’s a lot of risk of you accidentally capturing personal medical information, and I don’t want for us to have that liability.”

    1. Meyers and Briggs were not real doctors*

      THIS THIS THIS! Your first paragraph is exactly my concern.

      Also had my identity stolen once, and this goes against everything I was told to protect myself from it happening again, but the potential personal medical viewing (intentional or not by the company/program) just sets up patients to be outed. And lawsuits.

  31. ProdMgr*

    That’s really icky. I would file a vague IT ticket about having trouble installing the software and then make sure to be in the middle of something whenever IT tries to follow up. If enough people do that, the IT team will push back on having to support everyone installing the software.

  32. Angie*

    Given the fact that some companies will wipe out everything on your computer (including your personal files) when you quit, I wouldn’t use my personal computer for work even for a few days. Is buying a really cheap computer, or even a used one from eBay, an option? I know you shouldn’t have to but it might be a better option financially in contrast to losing your job.

  33. Woodsy*

    Maybe too late for you, but there’s always a tech solution. Install a Virtual Machine (VM) on your computer. That reserves a space on your hard drive that is, essentially, fully separate from your primary machine though it uses the same resources (modem, mouse, hard drive, RAM etc.). Then you install a new operating system on that, then your spyware. The spyware has no access to the rest of the machine — or shouldn’t. VM was designed to test out apps and malware that could bring a computer down, so there should be an effective firewall between the two.

    There is a slight downside in that you’ll have to install the programs you use for work on that VM — they won’t be available from the other machine. You can set it up such that you specify data folders (work) to be available on the other platform but not include stuff you don’t want seen or accessed. You can actually switch back and forth between the two though you might consider a dual boot and go only into the VM machine starting up.

    VMWare (the app) has a free home edition. It does not work on a Mac but all recent Macs have their own already available to install (Boot Camp). You can even install Boot Camp then Windows then any windows app you want.

    Both are pretty straightforward and there’s several YouTube videos on installing them easily.

  34. Nobodiesfool*

    Cybersecurity person commenting here. Putting on my company management hat here – this is a HUGE security issue for the company’s data and operation. From what I have read, they are having their workforce perform company work on a platform that they have no control over, have no idea what else is installed and cannot manage – for all they know, your computer could be sending all their data to their competition. From the employees standpoint, this is a huge privacy issue. What is on your personal computer is just that – PERSONAL. And, you OP might just have a product installed on your computer that blocks tracking of your actions and will….ummmmm….interfere with the company’s software. And, well since this is your PERSONAL computer, you cannot allow configuration changes to be made by the company to trouble shoot their product working on your computer because it works fine for you because again it is your PERSONAL computer.

    1. IrishEm*

      Could OP claim they have a malware problem, do you think? And with the current climate they can’t go out to get it scrubbed, so it would be unwise to have sensitive company data on a personal machine? Or is that opening them up to offers to get it fixed by Bob in IT while the spyware is installed?

  35. Nobodiesfool*

    Don’t allow your company to install a VM on your personal computer to do THIER business. Yes, theoretically it is much safer for you and the company but you DO NOT need to be providing hardware for the business. Company business = company hardware.

    1. Random IT person*

      Eh.
      Yes. And no.

      Some companies had to make a rapid change – and getting in new / enough hardware costs time (and money).
      IF you can do work – AND are willing – on a personal device – great.

      But the minute any company demands i install software that throws all my private and financial data, my logins etc out into the great wide open – nope.
      Because, lets be paranoid – spyware WILL cause issues somewhere along the line.
      Not a question of “IF” – it is “WHEN” it happens.. Who will be responsible for some criminal wiping your savings account?

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        The BOFH in me would try to make the target destination for all the screenshots etc. be the boss own computer. Max out their bandwidth, fill their hard drive with all that info.

        Then again, I’ve had my identity stolen in the past so the likelihood of spyware getting within speaking distance of my home PC is very minimal.

  36. Larry Nyquil*

    Every day I log on recently and there’s more stupid stuff about my current job that makes me want to quit and run out of my house screaming.

    And then something like this gets posted and I realize it’s not so bad.

  37. IrishEm*

    I know it’s more of a European thing, but could you cite GDPR as a reason not to put spyware on your personal device? Otherwise lie about not having one or say you spilled tea on it and it’s out of commission until social distancing is over so oh no I can’t use my personal machine can you express me an office machine?

  38. Woodsy*

    No, I wouldn’t allow company to install VM AND their &^%#&^$$!! spyware. I was suggesting that as a way to let them do the spyware (assuming no choice..) and keeping them out of my data.

    Also, it’s true it might be a security issue for the company but, as Nobidiesfool says, it’s your personal computer. If they’re not going to provide a separate computer, the security risk is not my problem. The business necessarily now assume the risk of what’s on my computer.

  39. Richard Hershberger*

    Coming back later with a serious suggestion, for which I apologize if it has already been floated: Buy a low end laptop for the purpose. Your company will still suck, for all the obvious reasons, but at least they won’t have spyware on your home computer.

    1. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

      It’s a good idea, I just made that suggestion, a cheap laptop just for work, it doesn’t have to be new, a used one could work. Bonus points if they have trouble installing spyware because it’s so old.

  40. IT bad guy*

    This company sucks no doubt. Our company is doing a good job with working remotely but there isn’t any way we could have provided everyone with equipment – we are on week 3 of remote work which I think was a pretty quick implementation – users remote in to their work computer which means they don’t need much on their home side – and we don’t install anything on their home computers – at all. Don’t know if anyone has tried to order computer equipment online – but it has a long lead time – I just spent 1 1/2 hours with Verizon just to get 3 sim cards and my phone upgrade I ordered 3 weeks ago still has not shipped. One other thing I have to say that is not helping remote workers is the posts about how to work from home that go on and on about cleaning closets, taking virtual yoga classes, writing a novel, starting a blog etc or the ones that people post bragging about how lucky they are to work from home and show how they have knit 5 sweaters and an afghan with all their extra time. While these are few enough, they are visible enough to those who already want to micro manage and not believe their employees are working to give them ammunition -SEE I told you people aren’t working…. ughhh just stop people!

  41. IneptBanjoPlayer*

    Depending on the license and the application, your company may not have purchased a license to install the software on personally owned computer, just computers owned by the company that bought it. And if you report the lack of compliance and there’s a settlement you get a percentage of the fine.

  42. Steve*

    Does this count as working conditions, and so does it fall under protected concerted actions? I.e. would OP be protected for pushing back or even just asking their coworkers if they are willing to push back as a group?

  43. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

    If your company is adamant, can you buy a cheap laptop that is only for work purposes? What can they do in that case? Admonish you for not having personal stuff that they can snoop through?

  44. Will E*

    Install a new copy of windows in a virtual machine using VirtualBox. It’s free! Then you can have a little icon on your desktop that says “work computer.”

    1. JK*

      I second that. It’s a wonderful solution to give them their spying – without seeing anything.

  45. Granath*

    1. Claim that it wont install.
    2. When IT insists and does a GoToAssist meeting, as soon as they start the launcher disconnect the meeting and kill the installer. When they ask what happened say your machine rebooted. Make sure it takes 10 minutes for your PC to reboot.
    3. Repeat step 3 as needed until they give up.

    As an aside, my company wanted one of these for my mobile (which I do get an allowance for but not enough to cover all the service). I read the EULA and found they could do basically anything to my phone and sse anything. I refused the install. I still get the stipend but no longer get company email on my mobile. Their loss, not mine.

  46. MJ*

    Someone I knew had remote access (company approved) to the company’s servers to work from home. Everything was set up as it should but somehow a hacker used this person’s personal computer to access the servers. They had to hand over their personal computer to the police as part of the criminal investigation.

    When you link your personal computer to the company’s network/install company software on it, it ceases to be yours, IMO. Not something I would be prepared to do.

  47. Meyers and Briggs were not real doctors*

    Thank you! For non-techie folks this is so concerning and was my thinking as well.

  48. Random IT person*

    I commented a bit here and there – but – to be clear:
    Company required spyware is a BAD idea.
    Why?
    – licensing (legal issue) – is it licensed for use on non corporate PCs? How many?
    – cost (TCO) – does this really earn itself back ?
    – security (IT/Legal) – how many ports does this open? where does data go? who has access to this data? how long is it stored? who is liable if spyware captures private data (bank logins) and the employees bankaccount gets wiped out?
    – bandwidth (IT) how many users? how much data? where does it get stored? does the network have the capacity to deal with the information flow?
    – trust (HR) will your employees now run away first chance they get because you`ve proven you do not trust them (and basically told them you cannot be trusted)
    – cost (HR/Corporate) who will filter through captured data, how much time, what does this person cost us?

    and several other reasons from others as well.

    Again – if you are a manager and are contemplating having your people install spyware – please, do not.
    If you have done this – know you personally are part of worst people in current history! (my personal – spyware free- opinion)

    If you are a user of a PC with forced spyware – develop a hobby with some gross pictures shown (someone mentioned cannibalism in the insect world).
    Or, push back – after all, it`s not YOUR personal PC but from a friend/partner/neighbor so you are not allowed
    or you cannot install, PC is too old
    Or you cannot install, but don`t know why (feign ignorance – but that is risky)

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