can my husband’s employer constantly record all the conversation in our house?

A reader writes:

I am a stay-at-home mom living a work life vicariously through your blog. My husband is still working at home due to corona. His company has been very cautious. All of their on-site campuses have been closed, with all employees working from home. They were given company computers and phones to use, and my husband has a good relationship with his manager. They have no requirements about having a secluded office away from noise. My husband doesn’t have space for an office, so it is smack-dab in the middle of the playroom. On more than one occasion, clients can hear baby noises. The company has not yet flagged it as a problem.

Enter stage right: a system update to my husband’s work-provided phone. (His work phone and work computer are connected, and both were updated.) This new update means the phone is continuously recording everything around it. When I’m downstairs with the kiddos, I chat with my husband, especially during slow times. My husband’s phone has a mute button, but it randomly will click off without warning.

Is this legal? Like, maybe recording my husband is fine, but is it legal to record me? If they hear us talking, can they use what they have recorded against him in any way? We talk about fairly innocuous things, kids, money, family, but I don’t want to get in trouble. And if it is illegal, how should my husband approach the issue with his manager?

What ridiculous impulse inspired someone to make this change to employees’ phones? I’m guessing it’s the same impulse driving the requests for employees to stay on video chat all day long, so they can be monitored every minute of the workday — the impulse known as “we don’t believe anyone is working if we don’t have minute-to-minute proof.” Also known as “we don’t know how to manage and it hasn’t occurred to us to look at what outcomes people get in their work.”

I’m curious about how your husband and his coworkers have reacted to this change. Are they all okay with this kind of monitoring? Are people upset? Pushing back? Does this seem out of sync with the company culture and management approach (in which case people should be shocked and pushing back against it), or is the company toxic enough that this doesn’t even register for most employees as weird or as a battle worth fighting?

In any case, I took your question to employment lawyer Jon Hyman of Meyers, Roman, who writes the incredibly useful Ohio Employer Law Blog and is the author of The Employer Bill of Rights: A Manager’s Guide to Workplace Law. Here’s what he said:

First things first. Legal or illegal I’d get away from that employer right now. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. Just get your resume in order and start job hunting ASAP. This is a horrible HR practice that tells me this is not an employer I want to work for any longer

As for the legality of the practice, it depends on the state in which you live. Recording or otherwise listening to the conversations of others are covered and regulated by state wiretap statutes. These laws come in two flavor – one-party consent laws, and two-party consent laws.

Most state wiretap statutes are one-party consent laws. This means that as long as one of the parties to the conversation has consented to the recording, no law has been violated. In the scenario presented, I’d want to know whether the husband has consented (expressly or implicitly) to the recording. If so, in a one-party consent state, no statute has been violated. I would still, however, have concerns over a common law invasion of privacy tort claim since the employer is unreasonable intruding into the private lives of your family, legal wiretap notwithstanding.

A minority of states (11 to be precise — California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Washington, plus Hawaii, which requires two-party consent if the recording device is in a private residence) have two-party consent laws. This means that unless all parties being listened to or recorded have consented to it, an illegal wiretap is occurring. If you are in one of these states, the recording described would likely be illegal, since the spouse and anyone else within earshot of the phone other than the employee would not have provided consent. In this case, I’d raise the issue with the company, and if you can’t get satisfaction, I’d talk to an attorney.

I asked Jon whether, if you’re in a state where the recording is legal, the company would be able to use anything they heard on the recording against your husband in some way. Jon said he thinks they would, subject to tort liability for an invasion of privacy.

So, the advice to you. If you’re in one of the 11 states that requires two-party consent, this is easier: Your husband should point out to his company that the update to the phone puts them in violation of state laws and needs to be corrected ASAP. If he’s concerned about seeming adversarial, he can approach it of course they must not have realized this and of course they will want to correct once they do. But if you’re in one of the states where it’s legal, it’s worth talking with an attorney about whether there’s an invasion of privacy tort claim here.

And talk to your husband about what this says about his employer and what else might be going on at this job — because it’s very unlikely that this is the only serious problem there.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 383 comments… read them below }

  1. Elizabeth West*

    Hop right on the Nope Train, Batman, because you and Robin and I are getting out of OhHellNoTown.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        Catwoman’s stealing the phone, and I’m throwing it out the window of our getaway car.

    1. Hills to Die on*

      Speaking as someone who really has nothing of interest going on that anyone would really want to listen to (unless they were having a hard time sleeping), I will get on that train and will not stop until I am as far away from WhatTheFuckVille as possible.

      Leave that phone and laptop in the car unless you are actively using them! Hell no!

      1. Jennifer Juniper*

        Maybe the OP’s husband can approach this as a technical issue, since the mute button stops working without warning at random times.

    2. OP*

      OP here. A brief update. When the update was rolled out a few weeks ago, I felt pretty violated, as did my husband. I do think it might have been a bug in the system, but it’s a bug nobody cares about. My husband brought it up with his coworkers, and none of them really cared. So, my husband might try going back and asking when they are going to get rid of that feature. Because honestly, even when the phone is on mute, it’s still recording. Paying for that kind of storage isn’t cheap. If anything exciting happens with it, I’ll be sure to send in a full-fledged update.

      1. juliebulie*

        I’m amazed that none of your husband’s coworkers are bothered by this! Yes, please do give an update!

      2. Nephron*

        Are you certain it is not a hack or setup for ransomware? Because sending out an update to a bunch of business phones and computers that recorded all sound 24/7 sounds like a possible hack.

      3. ...*

        Did he speak to his manager or IT? I would assume 100% this is somehow an error or an accident or something. I cant imagine this change occurring and doing any other work before speaking with my manager, and IT, and escalating the conversation until resolution.

        1. OP*

          He did speak to his manager and IT. They essentially said it’s something that we just have to live with. I am curious if they are actually storing all the recordings. It seems a bit overkill, but who knows.

      4. Suzy Q*

        In the meantime, if you want to talk to your husband about anything private, make sure his phone is in the fridge!

        1. Hey Nonnie*

          Frankly, I’d be storing my work phone in the fridge unless I was actively using it for work. Maybe turn the ringer all the way up, but definitely would be explaining any missed work calls as “I sometimes talk about my personal finances or other private matters at home, as you’d expect, so I don’t want my work phone listening in on those. Since I can’t turn the recording off, this was my solution.”

          Also, I’d be explicit about my non-consent of being recorded. Regardless of one-party or two-party, I’d want it to be clear and in writing that I didn’t consent to it. (Especially in the event that “well, he didn’t immediately quit” could be later spun as passive consent.)

      5. Nervous Nellie*

        If I were faced with this, I would turn my phone off and only turn it on to check voicemail and make outgoing calls a couple of times a day. I would liken it to a webcam, which I unplug when not in use.

        Oh, and I would start job hunting even just to have a backup plan if this surveillance scenario gets weirder.

        1. Jennifer Juniper*

          I’m guessing they may be scared to speak up for fear of not being seen as good team players. In today’s climate, that can mean the difference between a living and getting evicted.

          1. OP*

            I wondered that myself. It was rolled out near when layoffs and pay cuts were happening, so people had bigger fish to fry.

      6. Heather*

        Did none of his coworkers consider that this means all medical appointments, therapy appointments, discussions with clergy, etc will be recorded if they are required to carry their work phone?

        1. Green Door*

          Not only medical and financial info. But geez, I hate the thought of false child abuse allegations being made if it picked up on me losing it with my kids. Or people making assumptions about my marriage if it picked up a squabble with me and my spouse. Or just all the comments about (or actual sounds of) bodily functions that go on in my house. And of course, the sounds of adults in the house engaged in….adult….things. Just one big NOPE. Double check with IT. I cannot believe they purposely added this feature and expect it to be used. And if they did, well, I’d start looking for a new job. Monitoring your work hours is one thing, but your private life? Hell No!

        2. Zombeyonce*

          Or their partner’s work calls and meetings being recorded! A coworker of mine has a partner that does HR work, currently from home. I’m sure that person’s employer would have some serious issues if my company suddenly started recording everything in their studio apartment, including all the calls he has to make about HR issues that are absolutely none of my company’s business.

      7. Not today, Satin*

        If that phone were in my house, it would live on a charging station next to the speaker that was broadcasting a neverending loop of Christmas carols as ‘sung’ by dogs and cats. Over and over and over.

        1. TardyTardis*

          Or the Birthday Card Chip That Would Not Die (and I tried really hard to kill it, too, finally went to long term storage at the local landfill where it is now likely entertaining the rats and seagulls).

        2. OP*

          I think the wailing and gnashing of teeth of the children accomplishes that goal. Baby Shark. The Wiggles. Fruit Salad.

          Although, my husband’s clients do seem to appreciate the occasional baby giggles that grace the conversation.

      1. Hey Nonnie*

        I have a Nest wifi point (needed a wifi extender for the size of my home), but they all have the microphones switched off.

    1. Mama Bear*

      Same. I would want to know what they are doing with the recordings, too. How are they securing your PII/PHI (personally identifiable information) if, say, you give out your SSN or you need to talk to your doctor. SO much wrong with this, including that it seems to have been w/o warning and he can’t rely on mute.

    2. Not A Girl Boss*

      Ironically, my job went the opposite way and laid down strict requirements about not having Alexa-type devices in the areas where we were working from home.
      And we were not allowed to have Siri/Google/etc enabled on any devices we carried into work.

      This is just so horrifying that I could not, would not, no how tolerate it. Especially since his mute button is popping off, that makes me feel like someone is actively listening and unmuting it? Helllllll noooo.
      I would, at the very least, assume everything you ever say is being recorded by a creepazoid. And store his phone inside a sound proof case in the basement during non-work hours. Because honestly, what are the chances they stop listening at 5pm?

      1. Tidewater 4-1009*

        The whole thing reminds me of the villains in the novel The Firm by John Grisham (the book, not the movie). They secretly installed bugs in the home of the hero (and all their associates) to listen in on their family lives.
        The difference is the hero and his wife didn’t know of it when it happened. I find it very creepy that muting it doesn’t work, that the mute button clicks off randomly – OP and her husband should be able to mute it for a personal conversation and have confidence the mute button is working!
        At best this is disrespectful, and at worst it’s a John Grisham or Michael Crichton novel.
        Reference also Nixon and his tapes – that didn’t go well for anyone…
        That the colleagues don’t care about this could mean the place is so toxic, this is a blip. If so, that’s another reason to start looking!

      2. TardyTardis*

        I remember when the DoD outlawed Furbys in sensitive areas, because the little darlings repeated conversations.

    3. Phony Genius*

      I got one for free that I didn’t ask for. I only plug it in when I need it. Then, I unplug it as soon as I’m finished talking to it.

      (That can apply to so many things. I sometimes wish my boss were one of them.)

      1. Tidewater 4-1009*

        Do you remember when TVs had to have conversion boxes? Since I don’t find beta testing fun, I keep using my tech as long as possible. I used a converter box on top of my tube-style TV for several years. I had a TV that faced the kitchen so I could watch while I ate.
        One weekend day I was eating lunch and the TV was turned off. The power light on the converter box came on by itself. It was being accessed.
        After that I unplugged it when I wasn’t using it. When I watched, I assumed someone was gathering data on what I watched, so I never left the TV on a show I didn’t like, or wasn’t watching.

      2. Richard Hershberger*

        My mother-in-law gave us one, unasked. (This is itself a pattern.) I refuse to set it up. I have explicitly said that if someone else wants to set it up, they can, but I won’t do it. It is still in its box. The family dynamic is that everyone assumes I am the one who does this sort of stuff, and that is that. It is ridiculous. I have a bright twelve year old who navigates modern tech all the time. She could do it as easily as I could. But so it goes. I should move it to the back of the closet, just in case someone stumbles across it and gets ambitious.

    4. Alex Beamish*

      If that were me, I’d just have a soundproof box for the phone to live in, outside of working hours. That, or a box with that purple dinosaur singing I Love You 24/7. :)

      1. nonegiven*

        Put it in a box with something that plays baby shark 24/7 if he isn’t actually using it.

        1. rayray*

          This is evil and genius. I think there’s a youtube video that loops it for hours on end. You could play it, put it in a drawer with some heavy sweaters and leave it.

          1. Mongrel*

            There are plenty, just search for “10 hours…”.
            My personal favourite is Everything is Awesome from the Lego movie or Let it Go, because most people have that in their head anyway.
            Having just searched there’s a playlist for 10 hour Meme songs which has both Nyan cat & the Badger song as well – these are even more “stuck in your head” types …

      2. Waffles*

        What you need is a faraday box or bag. They work really well to block cell signals in our out. We store our car keys in one after reading reports of thieves stealing cars by pulling data remotely off key fobs…

        1. Ego Chamber*

          DIY Faraday cage: wrap the phone in at least three or four layers of aluminum foil to block the signal. (Call the phone and make sure it doesn’t ring to check whether you’re using enough foil.)

          1. Mongrel*

            Also see if a Bluetooth headset\speaker\anything can connect to it as Bluetooth & Phone signals run on different frequencies.

        2. Zelda*

          That depends on how the recordings are stored and sent– it may be that there are files created locally, and if there is no signal for a while, they are uploaded later when there *is* a signal. If that’s the case, blocking the signal only delays, not prevents, the upload.

          Better to prevent the recording being made at all– turn the power fully off, sound-proof box, and/or loud Barney as suggested above.

    5. Delta Delta*

      I don’t either. Nope nope nope.

      Funny story. I was feeding my neighbor’s elderly cat while the neighbor was away. The cat was at the point in his life where he didn’t eat much. I saw the Alexa and said, “Alexa, play a song to help an old cat eat.” It played “Let’s Get it On” by Marvin Gaye. No idea what algorithm made that pop up, but it was good for a laugh.

    6. Bowserkitty*

      My mom loves hers. One of the last times I was home I asked Alexa to stop spying on us and she played dumb. I see you, Alexa.

  2. London Lass*

    This is utterly creepy. In the meantime, I’d be looking for a way to cover the mike effectively, which can be removed easily when actually needed for calls.

    1. PenicilliumIHardlyKnowEm*

      Yeah. That is my thought. I can’t imagine wanting to continue in a place that thinks this is ok but I also know this isn’t a great time to get a new job, especially one that provides all of their income. No matter what, cover up the microphone on both the phone and the computer. Might be a good idea to cover the camera on the computer too. This employer seems shady.

      1. Just J.*

        I think immediately of the Pelican camera cases which are hard-sided, waterproof and full of foam. They are pricey, but I bet the phone couldn’t hear a thing if stored in one!

    2. MK*

      In the meantime, the husband should have a designated work area, ideally a room with a door that closes. Frankly, that should have happened as soon as it became obvious that wfh was not going to be short-term thing. I realize this isn’t easy for everyone, but it should have been done if at all possible, even if it wasn’t convenient.

      1. Libby*

        Yeah, maybe they can just buy a new house or something. I get so sick of hearing how great WFH is from privileged people with large homes and nannies. People are doing the best they can in the situations they are in – I am sure this guy is not working from the playroom just for fun – it is likely the only place there is space for him to set up.

        1. LifeBeforeCorona*

          Mine would be a corner of the basement but there is a window there which is home to a spider colony and they have first dibs.

      2. old curmudgeon*

        What, like in the garage? In the back yard? Down cellar behind the axe?

        Not all of the world lives in a McMansion. Some of us have 800-sq. foot homes, or smaller, shared with other humans. If you have two people living in a three-room dwelling, or three people living in a four-room dwelling, the suggestion that one of those rooms can be devoted to 100% work-space is misguided at best, and frankly comes across as incredibly clueless and privileged.

        I realize you may not intend it that way, but that’s how it comes across.

      3. rayray*

        Oh, right. He can just pull a desk up to the toilet and give his family designated times that it won’t be in use.

        It really isn’t possible for some people, honestly. People are doing the best they can. If you can make a private office for yourself, then congratulations. Truly the best most people can do is have a designated corner somewhere if not at the kitchen table or on the couch.

        1. Third or Nothing!*

          Been working at the kitchen table since March. We’ve been eating on the couch. That part of WFH sucks. I do like getting to wear my running gear all day though.

      4. lilsheba*

        We live in a 3 bedroom apartment, and while I can use one bedroom as an office with a door that closes, it’s also got other uses. It’s also a witchy magic room and a room to record youtube videos in. We just divy up the time. I’m lucky in that regard I know, but I do have to have a dedicated workspace, I can’t just work from “anywhere”

      5. Ashley*

        I have a feeling that after 6 months, if there was another option besides the childrens’ play room, they would have thought of it already.

      6. DarnTheMan*

        Even with a door that closes – one of my bosses has an office at her cottage that she’s working out of but since her kids are 6 and 8, impressing upon them that not everything is an emergency that requires her immediate attention has not taken, despite several months of trying.

    3. Mayflower*

      I suggest silicone ear plugs, available at any pharmacy. They are reusable and you can split them into any size pieces, just like play dough, so they are very cost effective – a $6 pack should last 2-3 months.

      The silicone provides nearly 100% sound blocking, doesn’t leave a mark, and sticks to itself very well so when you take it off, if there are any crumbs left stuck to the device, you can just dab the bigger piece and it will pick up its own crumbs.

      1. JustaTech*

        It’s invasive and at the same time, incredibly boring.
        Like, I haven’t got a toddler making kid noises all day, so it’s actually super quiet (except for my spouse on calls) except for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
        Like, no one at my spouse’s company needs to know I watch British documentaries and YouTube sewing programs while I cook, but it’s also not something shameful or interesting to other people. If you recorded our main room for 24 hours you’d get like, maybe 5 hours of content.

        And they’re doing this for every employee? Who has the space to store all that data? The whole thing is, as Reba said, bananas.

  3. Name (Required)*

    G.T.F.O. now. There is nothing sane or logical about this request, legal or not. It is time to escape.

    (Maybe have some fun staging some terrible recordings first.)

    But also, no way, no how. Get out and don’t look back.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      (Maybe have some fun staging some terrible recordings first.)

      I literally went “Mwahahaha” upon reading this sentence.

      1. The Rural Juror*

        Like those radio shows from the olden days. Little Orphan Annie maybe? Or maybe an Orson Wells type of War of the Worlds…

          1. Tidewater 4-1009*

            When you’re done working, put it on the heavy metal channel of a streaming service. :D

              1. Wired Wolf*

                OK I just had to look that up. Utterly bizarre and fun. Now off to torture some friends with it…

      1. Jean (just Jean)*

        Or one of those steam whistles that punctuated the start & end of workdays in the 19th & early 20th centuries.

        1. Jean (just Jean)*

          or one of the old-fashioned squeeze-bulb car horns that go “Ah-OOH-gah!”
          Heck, just reconstitute the sound effects of the Spike Jones band.

    2. Amethystmoon*

      You know, there’s a reason Maze uses the It’s a Small World theme on repeat. :) Otherwise the Barney song might work.

      1. Anon234*

        Here I was thinking of every single misophonic sound I could think of: loud chewing, nails down a blackboard, baby having a meltdown.

        Then you come up with A Small World. Perfect.

        1. Scarlet Magnolias*

          I know I’ve said this before but a super loud version of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance has it’s charms. Also my son had a taste for Norwegian Black Death Metal that would make the neighbors shut right up at noisy parties

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            Long ago a friend was somelier for an upscale NYC restaurant. Before brunch he’d be doing wine inventory and would often get interrupted by servers feeling chatty before customers started arriving. Except on the days WFUV was playing Cajun music. He learned to love Cajun.

          2. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

            Make sure it’s a version recorded by enthusiastic amateurs with limited musical training. Elementary school children would be ideal, but community theater would also work.

            But seriously, “can” and “should” are different words with very different meanings, and whoever came up with this policy should do some reflecting on why they leapt to the second one just because they could. Bury the phone in a box in the yard.

            1. LifeBeforeCorona*

              Podcasts would work well. It would be hard to pick out the family conversation over someone else speaking. The plus side is if the podcast is interesting they can listen in. Something nice and dense like a Dickens or Dostoyevsky novel.

          3. Richard Hershberger*

            I have a relative who is a composer of *extremely* avant garde music. It, um…, is not to everyone’s taste.

        2. Elspeth Mcgillicuddy*

          They have a baby already. Just need to put it and the phone in close proximity whenever unpleasant noise occurs.

          1. LifeBeforeCorona*

            My friends’ baby just learned that growling gets a laugh. The baby growls a lot now.

        3. Pomona Sprout*

          Yowling cats fighting in an alley.
          Barking dogs. Lots of barking dogs.
          Some kid learning to play the violin, with lots of squeaking. Preferably poorly tuned.
          LOUD traffic sounds with cars backfiring, brakes squealing, horns honking.
          Smoke detector squealing.
          Cows mooing. Horses neighing. Sheep baaing. Pigs squealing. Preferably all at the same time, punctuated by roosters crowing.
          Sawing and hammering. Better yet, jackhammering.
          Sirens. Multiple different kinds.
          The list goes on…

          This is fun!

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            From having done it myself – a beginner bassoon student doing reed exercises. The sounds are totally random and way more annoying than a beginning violin student (my siblings instrument).

      2. RC Rascal*

        When we were kids a good friend’s dad worked for a military contractor. As this was during the Cold War and they were concerned about Russian spies, they constantly played background music to interfere with any potential bugs.

        Pop Goes the Weasel was in heavy rotation. Not sure why. Drove her dad and everyone else crazy.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          There’s actually A Thing about long Nyan Cat recordings. The most popular are the 10-hr and 24-hr versions, but I think someone’s up to 164-hr.

          How do I know? My kid’s a tween.

        2. pope suburban*

          There’s also a 10-hour rendition of “Pink Fluffy Unicorns,” which is apparently a My Little Pony thing. It’s as twee as it would sound and it drove everyone as far away from the stage as they could go when our sound engineer used it to test our projection/sound setup.

    3. pony tailed wonder*

      I think this would be a great time for your children to take up music lessons and practice in front of the listening device.

      1. Jean (just Jean)*

        Yes indeedy. Beginning string players! Bonus points if the poor kids are not naturally gifted in music. (Cue the moaning mammal music.)
        Alternately, basic-skill percussionists. Or tap dancers.
        Failing that, any handy person with an unhappy digestive system.

          1. allathian*

            Or a novice bagpipe player who can’t keep the thing in tune at all… I speak as someone who likes bagpipes.

          2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Lol – I suggested a beginning bassoon student up above.

            I miss school band.

    4. The Voice of Reason*

      “G.T.F.O. now”

      Now, lemme get this straight. Husband works for what appears to be a major employer with something of a brand name. He appears to have a job of some importance, and a good relationship with his manager. He has been able to work at home, full-time, throughout the pandemic, and appears to be getting paid.

      And you want him to quit over…a software update?

      Lookit, I don’t agree with recording all the conversations, and as noted it is illegal in a two-party consent state. But it’s not even clear the employer is doing this intentionally. It may be a firmware update from a third-party vendor, rather than a conscious management decision. None of the husband’s colleagues are upset by this. (Possibly even the *husband* isn’t upset by it, since he’s not the one writing in.)

      You need to keep a sense of proportion. Quitting in a huff over this problem would be the worst possible thing you could do, particularly since OP and her husband have dependents to feed.

      1. TardyTardis*

        So, you’re ok with sensitive financial information going out over the airwaves? Brave soul.

      2. YouGottaThrowTheWholeJobAway*

        It’s management’s responsibility not to push insecure and over-reaching IT. It’s either incompetence, malfeasance, or both. In my line of work we offer a certain level of security and privacy to our online customers, and it would be brand-damaging or killing if it got out this was what my employer was doing. If this is a major company, they may be operating in countries with more robust labor laws (like Germany, the Netherlands, etc.), which means major fines if they have the same software company-wide. Or they may be violating GDPR. It is potentially a very big deal. If we so much as want to record a casual team video call, we have to ask express permission and give attendees the opportunity to object, leave, or mute themselves for the duration.

        In the short term for the OP: phone in a box with at least 2 white noise machines making separate random sound patterns. Set up alerts on your laptop if your phone infrastructure isn’t already integrated with your set up.

      3. OP*

        Thanks, Voice of Reason. You nailed just about everything. My husband is actually quite upset, but he isn’t the one reading AAM multiple times a day. I wrote in for the both of us.

  4. WellRed*

    Are you sure this was intentional and not some weird glitch? But yeah, if this is intentional, get out get out!

    1. Deborah*

      I was thinking the same thing, but I am an utter innocent who thinks, “Who would even want to listen to all that??”

      1. Ego Chamber*

        I’m baffled by why so many of you think a person is listening to any of this?

        The recordings are being transcribed by an algorithm and then either stored for unknown reasons or scraped for keywords and the relevant data sent to whoever wanted this done. (I wouldn’t be surprised if it was something a vendor set up to collect data to sell to advertisers, like that thing all our phones are doing all the time anyway.)

    2. Ali G*

      I kind of went here too. It just seems like such a huge shift, with no notification – did they actually mean to do this? Has anyone said that he has to have the recording all day? Can he turn it off?
      I feel like there is missing info (or if not then this is wackadoo).

      1. OP*

        I left out some information that would make it too easy to identify him, but I do think it was unintentional. The crazy part is they aren’t planning on fixing it, and if they are, have not communicated that to their employees.

    3. Person from the Resume*

      I was in the military and once deployed in a unit that recorded all our personal phone calls (on military provided phone lines) to check for OPSEC violations and supposedly people listened to all of them. I thought that must have been a boring job. Sometimes I even find my own conversations boring but let my mom talk in the interest of family harmony. She was a teacher and loved her job so I’d hear about her students whom I didn’t know.

      So I doubt anyone is listening full time because that’s a lot of manpower. But still get away from this employer. It’s not reasonable. For the military, it maybe sort of was, but still only maybe IMO.

      1. Observer*

        And even there they didn’t listen to everything that went on AROUND the person, just the person’s conversations.

        The idea that I could not have a private conversation with anyone when my husband is around is …. no words.

    4. thatoneoverthere*

      I am in this camp that its a strange glitch that no one else has figured out yet. Either way, it needs to resolved ASAP.

    5. Sabine the Very Mean*

      I wondered this as well. Even if it were, it’s one of those things that would make people immediately begin looking for a job–or quit right on the spot as it is so invasive. If it were a mistake, it would be a very reckless one indeed!

    6. Gertrude*

      My thoughts exactly. I could absolutely see my company installing an automatic update and not even realizing that this was a change. If your husband isn’t 100% certain that his company is consciously aware of the change, that’s where I’d start.

      1. tangerineRose*

        Yeah, this seems like either a bug or 1 person with little sense who thought this would be a good idea.

      2. ...*

        I dont understand how on earth he hasn’t reached out to his boss or something? Like what level would it need to be at before he actually used his words in inquire about the problem?

    7. irene adler*

      Yeah I was wondering that myself. Perhaps management doesn’t know about this aspect.

      And, I’m wondering what the other employees are thinking about this latest upgrade.

    8. Observer*

      In fact, I would approach it this way. I would approach HR with “This very weird thing happened with the last upgrade.”

      1. beanie gee*

        That seems like such a good approach. “I’m sure this isn’t what the company intended, so could someone clarify this update and expectations of the employee? Because obviously you didn’t mean to start recording everyone’s home conversations.”

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          All those people whose home offices are in bedrooms… it’s not home *conversations* I’m worried about.

          1. Esmeralda*

            Conversation is an old euphemism for having sex, hence criminal conversation = adultery.

            So, yeah, bedroom conversations…

    9. The Other Dawn*

      This seems like a much more likely explanation. There are lots of times where I get a software update on either the phone or computer and it changes a setting without me noticing. All of a sudden it’s like, “why the hell is doing that??” Turns out some setting defaulted or whatever and I have to change it back. I wouldn’t automatically assume the employer is bugging the house via the husband’s work phone.

      1. TardyTardis*

        Oh, let me tell you what I thought about the Windows 2004 update (glances at Alison’s language policy, decides it’s a bad idea, need to brush up on my Adult Klingon). I live in hope for the Oops We Screwed Up Update, which typically follows one of the big ones.

    10. Qwerty*

      Or it was intended to be something different? So many people I know in client-facing work have their Zoom set up to automatically record meetings that I wonder if someone meant to set up the phones to just auto-record work calls and didn’t pay enough attention to realize they set up the phone to always be a recording device. I think that’s the advantage of using the tone of voice that Alison suggests – it gives a face saving moment of “I’m sure you don’t mean to be constantly recording me”.

      1. fhgwhgads*

        Yeah my first thought was it was intended to be some sort of “this call will be recorded for quality control purposes” not that it should be constantly recording everything around it. So when inquiring, taking it from an all-innocent sounding “surely that’s not what you meant?” angle might work.

    11. The Voice of Reason*

      “Are you sure this was intentional and not some weird glitch?”

      Exactly. It sounds like a firmware update.

      1. The Bill Murray Disagreement*

        I’m not sure about a firmware update doing this. But I could see it being some security setting rolled out that the administrators didn’t fully test or understand before enabling.

  5. DrSalty*

    “We talk about fairly innocuous things, kids, money, family, but I don’t want to get in trouble.”

    All of this is absolutely private! It doesn’t matter if you don’t have anything to hide, your employed is not obligated to know ANY of that unless you actively choose to share it.

    1. Student*

      Even if both adults decide they’re okay with this – children! You don’t want your employer to have an audio recording of any of your kid’s chatter, let alone your kid’s worst moments.

      1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

        This is honestly what concerns me. I used to work with youth programming and HOO BOY you do NOT want to be recording children unknowingly. You can get into all sorts of legal problems that way. It’s a minefield.

        1. old curmudgeon*

          That might be an additional question for Alison’s legal consultant to comment on as well. His area of specialization appears to be in employment law, though, so possibly a legal specialist in child welfare statutes?

    2. RC Rascal*

      There are so many ways this information could be used against you.

      Kids have a medical issue? Now you are costing the company insurance more money.
      Just received an inheritance? Now you don’t need a raise.
      Have debt? Now we can’t trust you with a role around finances, so no promotion for you.
      Fight with the spouse? Now you have conflict management issues precluding you from becoming a manager.

      None of this is good.

      1. Marzipan Shepherdess*

        No, none of this is good. Even if it’s all a matter of algorithms, the very existence of recordings of such private information poses a danger to the employee (and, by extension, the employee’s family’s well-being.) While it’s highly unlikely that the company would pay anyone to listen to recordings of family life, their ability to do so if they chose means that no information inadvertantly revealed (credit card numbers, just for a start!) would actually be safe. And the old saw that you’ve nothing to fear if you’ve nothing to hide was always untrue!

        Something is very, very wrong here. This needs to be addressed (tactfully but clearly) with the employee’s manager NOW!

      2. Jennifer Juniper*

        And they could easily do an update to include video as well. If they don’t like you? Upload data of the OP and her husband’s sexy times to the web “by mistake.”

  6. AppleStan*

    To me it seems like such a humongous leap – given how much the management seems to not care about the minutia of working from home AND how cautious they have been about Corona (based upon the statements in OP’s letter). I’m wondering if it’s just the (very) awful decision by one person as opposed to a company-wide decision to implement such a system.

    As unlikely as that seems, if it turns out to be the result of just one person making this (very) awful decision, would you still recommend getting away from the company ASAP?

    I’m also wondering if, in the meantime, the only way to stop the recording is to turn everything OFF at night (outside of scheduled work hours)? I mean…this is just horrible on so many levels.

    1. Not A Girl Boss*

      I almost wonder if this is like, one creepy creep in IT who is getting away with it because no one raised it to the right person. Has your husband and his coworkers actually, officially, pushed back on this to the right people?

      1. all the time*

        yeah always the creepy IT person – (from an IT person who would bolt said company if I was instructed to do something like this) eyeroll.

    2. gbca*

      I agree – it’s hard to believe that a company that has generally been reasonable and cautious would do something like this. Either way, I think it’s best for OP’s husband to approach the situation assuming that of course this was unintentional and he wanted to make them aware of it. Depending on their response, he can take it from there.

  7. OlympiasEpiriot*


    And, yes, I understand that this is a work phone. But, I’m sure they’ve got Slack or MS Teams or some other messaging platform where most people contact each other.

    1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      If it records and then does a batch upload (as opposed to streaming), a Faraday pouch won’t help.


      1. OlympiasEpiriot*

        But, if you mute or turn the phone off and leave it in the Faraday pouch, it can’t be accessed to turn it back on to record.

      1. I'm just here for the cats*

        It sounds like this is a cell phone. Most cell phones do not have removable batteries, or at least a lot of them do not.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Samsung S5 here. Phone died once, and for $14 I got a new battery.
          (I do need a new one, but it’s not because of the battery!)

    2. Jaid*

      Aren’t microwaves basically Faraday pouches?

      I’m not recommending people put their phones in a microwave because the obvious would happen and the Hilarity Would Ensue trope would be averted. Hard.

  8. LauraCait*

    If OP’s husband works in finance and is a trader, this may be stemming from the company trying to comply with a state/federal regulation related to recording trading activity, and not a red flag. I have actually been hearing this a lot from my wall street friends. Otherwise, it is a massive red flag.

    1. Combinatorialist*

      But there is a big difference between deciding on the policy, communicating it to your employees, as well as the reason for the highly invasive policy and just pushing an update to the phone that makes it start recording all the time. Even if there is a legitimate reason for the change, it is a huge red flag that that reason wasn’t communicated

    2. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      I wouldn’t be surprised if this idea comes from a bank or a call center, desperate to comply with their own standards and regulations. But there must be a reasonable limit.

      1. I'm just here for the cats*

        I’ve worked at call centers and the calls themselves are recorded but never the conversations around them. We even had people WFH and it was just the calls themselves recorded.

        1. MassMatt*

          I was wondering about this. I also worked in call centers so recorded CALLS are old hat to me, but I don’t understand how recording everything would work when there’s no phone call. I mean issues of privacy and the employer grossly violating personal boundaries aside, how would this even work? Is the husband’s phone always on a conference call for some reason, like a group chat? I’ve never seen technology where something is connected without my answering/turning it on, even for voice over internet phone.

          It’s shocking, doubly so if it’s not some sort of accident, if a company thinks bugging and recording their employees homes is OK then… yikes!

      2. L Dub*

        No call center would spend the money needed to store this massive amount of audio, if every employee with a work phone is being recorded 24/7.

    3. Rachel*

      Sometimes your phone calls might be recorded. But only sometimes. I have worked in investment banking for 20 years in London and NYC – I have literally NEVER heard of this kind of thing happening. You do have stricter rules on emails and use of private messaging (basically DO NOT USE) but this kind of surveillance would be wildly out of the norm

      1. pancakes*

        Really? Look up FINRA Rule 3170 / FINRA Taping Rule. Commodities dealers also have to record and preserve calls under Dodd-Frank. I’ve listened to calls for litigation. Neither of those require recordings of the surroundings, though, of course.

    4. I’m new in town.*

      There are certain requirements to record phone calls. Only phone calls with customers. And it only applies to disciplined firms under what is known as the Taping Rule. A quick search shows there are only 8 firms on this list, so I’d say it’s highly unlikely the husband falls into this category.

    5. Ann Perkins*

      If that really is what it’s about, it hugely misses the mark. It’s one thing to record conversations with consumers with notice that it’s being recorded but it’s hugely different to have it set to record all the time. It’s still a red flag in that the firm wouldn’t understand what are appropriate ways to supervise the activity of traders. Recording so haphazardly like this brings a huge amount of other risk that’s already been mentioned, such as privacy concerns for the employee when not working (phone call to doc, needs a password reset on his own bank account, etc) but also for his family.

      (BG: am registered securities sales supervisor)

  9. ThatGirl*

    Interestingly, I knew that about Illinois because my husband was curious about whether a coworker could record something at work without everyone’s consent.

    (But I’m guessing that doesn’t apply to the feds? Which is how they recorded Blagojevich? Sorry, I know that’s off-topic.)

    But um, yikes. I would magically just not have my phone on a lot … oh, sorry, the battery keeps dying… That’s SO creepy.

      1. The Rural Juror*

        Exactly. Also, this is different from the one-party or two-party consent. It’s not like a phone in someone’s pocket recording a two-way conversation and the consenting party is the one who carried the recording device on their person. This is surveillance where none of the parties being recorded are consenting! I hope the husband didn’t have to sign anything, but it’s still skeevy either way! Yikes!

    1. Aquawoman*

      Feds can tape someone secretly but only with a warrant/probable cause (that’s the 4th amendment).

      1. Delta Delta*

        The criminal procedure professor in me wants to hijack this thread. The Grateful Dead fan in me wants to sing, “If you’ve got a warrant, I guess you’re gonna come in.” The responsible poster in me says, yes, there needs to be a warrant, and warrants are based on applications made to a neutral and detached magistrate who has to determine whether there’s probable cause.

  10. JKP*

    In the meantime, you can plug mic blockers in the jacks for his phone and computer. They have jacks that plug into the headphone jack, and they also have jacks that plug into the lightening connector. The mic blockers trick the device into thinking it needs to use an external mic rather than the built in one. The hardware fix means you don’t have to rely on the software staying muted. But he would have to remember to plug and unplug the jack when he wanted to use the mic. I use mic blockers the same way I use a webcam cover.

    1. blackcat*

      This is a great idea!
      Another thing to try is sleeves that block radio frequencies. So if the phone is constantly transmitting the recording to elsewhere for storage (likely) this will prevent it from working. They’re generally a metallic plastic. They’re sometimes called Faraday bags or sleeves.

      1. Hazel*

        I didn’t know these existed! I’m going to look into this. I don’t like the possibility that anyone could use my phone or computer to listen to my household (as boring as that would be…).

    2. I Love Llamas*

      Your idea is better than mine. I was thinking he should use a big wad of Playdough from the play room…….

    3. Cobol*

      I was going to say any sort of white noise. If close to the mic, you could have it amazingly quiet and still completely prevent the employer from hearing a thing.

      1. Amethystmoon*

        Yes, a loud fan might work as well, and if it’s still warm outside, it wouldn’t be unheard of for a fan to be running.

    4. nnn*

      Oh, that’s a good idea! I was going to suggest a headset with a physical mute button (I don’t know if they have those any more – I had one several years and several phones ago) but your idea is better

    5. Aly_b*

      I was thinking cludge together some kind of acousticly sealed-ish pouch and leave it in there with some metal music when not in use.

    6. Glitsy Gus*

      I think this is a good option, especially because, since it doesn’t block the phone’s signal, he wouldn’t have to worry about missing a work call

  11. juliebulie*

    There are few things that would get me to start a new job search as fast as this would.

    In the meantime, I would turn on the tv and put the phone down next to it. (Or turn it off if I could get away with that.)

  12. ShouldBeWorking*

    Even in one-party consent states, there is often an exception for recording of minors. Some states also have laws against recording minors with intent to distribute the recording, so if anything is actually being done with this recording of your children, it could qualify.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I think Mattel got in trouble for this when they attempted to release an Alexa-like device for kids’ rooms called Aristotle. They’d previously had a similar issue that wi-fi Hello Barbie doll, which had a mic that was easily hackable. I remember there was a huge outcry over them.

      1. I'm just here for the cats*

        That is an interesting thought. And makes me think about what would happen if you had to have your video camera on all day. Would it be illegal if your 3 yearold ran through the background but naked? Would/coud their be legal ramifications?

  13. Steveo*

    Who in the company even has the time to listen to these recordings? I don’t doubt the story, but fundamentally this doesn’t make any sense.

    1. I'm just here for the cats*

      The same people who watch employees all day through the video chat to make sure they are working.

    2. Anonymousness*

      There’s a manager at my office who, after we went to WFH, required everyone in her department to email her every time they log on and off. We already have time sheets, but she still wanted emails. From everyone. All 60ish of them. How in god’s name she can ever manage to get anything done around the barrage of “I’m here/I’m off” emails is completely beyond me. Some people insist on having this kind of information for tracking purposes because they don’t trust their employees. They might not ever look at it as long as you’re on their good side, but do 1 thing wrong and they wil pull up a recording from 30 years ago to call you out with!

      1. old curmudgeon*

        Yup. Every single day, our manager gets a minimum of four emails from everyone in the team:

        “Logged in.”
        “Back from lunch.”
        “Logging off, today I did ……” with an essay-length explanation of every single thing we did all day long.

        And then she complains that she doesn’t have time to get any “real” work done. Cry me a river, honey, cry me a river.

        1. rayray*

          There aren’t many things more irritating than a micromanager whining and throwing fits about how busy and swamped they are, yet they create more work for their selves by not trusting employees to get their work done on their own and also by deciding that these grown ups also need to be babysat.

          I worked for a micromanager. I didn’t understand why I even had the job. If she’d only given up her babysitting duties, she would have had time to get all of my work done too.

  14. GiantPanda*

    If the phone catches a conversation the husband is not a part of (between the wife and a child / a guest / anybody else), wouldn’t that be illegal even in one-party-consent states?

    1. HQetc*

      Yeah, this was my question as well. Seems like if any of their employees live with more than one other person (or even just the one if that person sometimes takes their own phone calls) they are going to capture conversations in which no one has consented.

  15. Snarkus Aurelius*

    The other issue is where is this information being stored and who is listening to it?

    Yes, some bosses and employers LOVE monitoring tactics such as this one, but they forget one major thing: who is going to listen to what a phone records 24-7?

    Okay maybe they won’t have someone monitoring it all the time. But I bet they would if they have reason to fire or discipline your husband. That would STILL require a tremendous amount of human effort to…listen/read transcripts of a phone that constantly records 24-7 over a long period of time.

    No matter what you do, you still have to have a human being involved to catch the bad behavior they think you’re doing. Is THAT a really good use of resources?

    Plus where is all this data going to be stored and who has access to it? (I can only imagine the data storage fees!)

  16. HereKittyKitty*

    Even if her husband consented to being recorded, does that consent extend to everyone else in the house being recorded. Wife, kids, repair man, delivery person, nanny etc?

    1. nm*

      Right! If Spouse works for a different company in the same industry, and her work calls get picked up and recorded by Husband’s company, isn’t that kind of a big deal?

      1. 1234*

        Clearly when they implemented this, they didn’t think of logistics such as this one (or any of the others mentioned in the comments) *eye roll*

      2. hmmmm*

        I didn’t even think of things from that angle of a spouse working from another company and having confidential information! I feel like this company has a lot of legal issues they never thought over.

        1. Just me*

          O.K., yeah- after reading so many of the possibilities with these comments, I’m definitely leaning towards “company made a choice without fully thinking through the ramifications”. I think Alison’s tactic of approaching them with, I’m sure you didn’t intend thus but…and list a few of these concerns and see if that fixes it.

        2. 1234*

          Or, spouse is a doctor conducting tele-health appointments at home. Client/patient confidentiality violated.

      3. I'm just here for the cats*

        OMG! And if the spouse had a very confidential job! For example, doing healthcare (tell health, counseling, etc)?

        Problem!!! BIG!HUGE!

    2. So they all rolled over and one fell out*

      I think that’s what Jon Hyman is saying – that the LW and their kid(s) are not consenting to the recording.
      I am not a lawyer in any shape or form, but I am honestly not sure if that’s true or not. It seems to me that LW’s Hubby is implicitly consenting because he knows about it and has not quit. Even LW knows about it but is continuing to have conversations with her husband in the middle of the work day in the same room as the (micro)phone.
      It seems to me that implicit consent is enough. When you call customer service and they say “this call may be recorded” and you don’t hang up, you have consented to recording.

      Now don’t get me wrong. This is still a huge flag, LW’s husband should be making a stink in a group with his coworkers, and simultaneously job searching, and in the meantime LW should stop discussing private matters in earshot of the phone.
      I’m just not sure the one-party / two-party consent issue is much of a shield for them to hide behind.

      1. I'm just here for the cats*

        I see your point, but I disagree. The husband has consented becaue it was put on the devices he uses, but he didnt have a choice. It sounds like it was updated and it wasnt discussed until after the fact. OR maybe it was just in the info from the update and bosses haven’t said anything. The wife has had no say. And it sounds like it is recording even after hours. What is she supposed to do?

        Also, what about if someone comes over. A repair man, or friend, or something. They don’t know they are being recorded.

      2. HQetc*

        Maybe, but then the company is relying on their employees to communicate this policy to all housemates and visitors, which seems like a big liability to me, since if one of their employees forgets, is still the one doing the recording and thus the one holding the liability bag, right?

        1. HQetc*

          Should read “…if one of their employees forgets, *the company* is still the one…” Editing fail -_-

  17. nm*

    Bizarre! Who in the company is Being paid to watch/listen to these recordings? Don’t they have real work to do?
    Obviously the right thing to do is bail ASAP, but I’d be tempted to enlist a roommate to come chat in great detail about their diarrhea or something similarly awful to have to listen to.

    1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      The OP mentions “baby noises” in the letter – I would think discussing diaper changes and/or potty training might well accomplish much the same thing, no additional roommate required, and a perfectly reasonable conversation for parents to have (with each other, not with their employers).

    2. rayray*

      There are many companies that are perfectly happy to employ full-time babysitters to keep employees in line. I’m sure there’s someone who would gladly spend all day listening to recordings just waiting for that moment they could catch someone slacking off, and they’d smugly write them up and feel oh-so-proud of their work.

  18. A Poster Has No Name*

    OK, my brain goes straight to the logistics of this one and I have to think it can’t be recording all the time, at least not 24/7. Is it only during the workday?. The battery drain would mean the phone would likely be dead in a couple hours if it were truly recording audio constantly, unless he’s also required to keep it plugged in at all times. Also, what are they doing with the recordings? Audio doesn’t take up as much data as video, but a quick Google indicates several hundred MBs to a gig or so per hour, which would add up super fast unless it’s streaming directly back to the company or being saved straight to the computer (not sure if that’s even possible). Is the data being transmitted back to the company? If so, that’s a not-insignificant amount of data usage for the LW, and not insignificant for the company, either. Has the LW’s DH asked the company about it? Is it possible it was a bug and they meant to turn on the ability to record but not necessarily have it turned on automatically?

    1. A Poster Has No Name*

      And that doesn’t even factor in managing that data on the employer’s side. Even if they only have a few employees, 24/7 recordings will require a lot of space to store them (cheap) and also the ability to manage them and access them if you want the data to be useful, and that’s harder. I work with data files that generate about 2GB of data and we struggle with tools (in a shared environment) that can manage to create useful reports out of that data set, 2 years in. It seems like an enormous amount of effort and cost to go to for maybe somehow catching the occasional slacker. Unless the company has specific worries about the LW and rather than addressing them they’re taking this route, in which case, yes, run like the wind.

    2. thatoneoverthere*

      I sort of wonder if this is just some massive bug that someone else hasn’t figured out.

    3. Coder von Frankenstein*

      Those figures seem off. You don’t need audiophile-quality recording here. 128Kbps MP3 is fine, which is about 1Mb per minute.

      More importantly, real life is not a continuous stream of sound. When there’s nothing to record, you don’t use any data. You would need filters to mute background noise, but given that, it could be a quite reasonable amount (though not trivial by any means).

      Is the company also paying for bandwidth? If so, I’d be sorely tempted to play music all day long and see who screams at the bill.

      1. A Poster Has No Name*

        It could totally be off–that’s what was returned when I did a quick Google. And, yes, I have no idea of the phone really does record constantly, so you’ll mostly have background noise or if it only turns on if it detects conversation or other noise. Though in a house with 2 adults and at least one kid, there’s going to be noise the majority of the time.

  19. Sneaky Ninja for this one*

    What kind of phone is always on and always recording. If it’s always on, wouldn’t that prevent incoming calls from coming through? They’d just go to voicemail. We have internet phones, but they only record when they’re on. And that’s only some of our phone systems.

    Something doesn’t make sense about the phone being always open and recording?

    Otherwise, nope, I don’t consent and get outta my house!

    1. I'm just here for the cats*

      It’s not a phone call that is being made that is being recorded . Their is software in the device itself that is recording and is not linked to a call being made.

    2. Pennyworth*

      Phones are always listening, which is why you can have a face to face conversation with someone with your phone nearby and the next time you use your phone you will be offered advertisements based on what you talked about. They also have quite powerful microphones as I discovered yesterday when a friend zipped her phone into her pocket while she was still talking to me and neither of us realized what had happened for several minutes.

  20. Neosmom*

    OP – Please have your spouse share the letter and Alison’s response with their co-workers.

  21. Them Boots*

    Until you can get this resolved, when you want privacy, put the phone under a white noise machine with the speaker facing/on top of the phone. ( My spy books use this to help with foiling a parabolic mike ;-) ). And then what Alison says above!!! +1,00! Totally creepy that his mute keeps clicking off.

  22. hmmmm*

    I’m curious as to how you found out these updates would be recording private information…. was it mentioned on the update when you hit “accept”, was memo sent out, was it invertently discovered? Unless it’s something top secret and required, something doesn’t sound right about this. It’s an invasion of privacy. In addition I’d argue that while the company (maybe innocently) is doing this solely for work purposes they are recording you and your child without your concent.

  23. Lilyp*

    Are you 100% positive it’s really *recording* everything (as in, saving audio files and uploading them somewhere where they can be accessed, with identifying information, by his boss/hr/it) vs just listening for voice control keywords/commands, and possibly sending some de-identified audio for training voice control systems to the device/software company? The former would be truly bizarre and frightening while the latter (although still disturbing in its own way!) is pretty common these days for voice-activated/voice-controlled devices. It might be worth getting more info from his boss on what precisely this is and who has access to any recordings before you pick a course of action.

    1. not neurotypical*

      Yes, that was exactly my thought: This is so outrageous that it seems more likely than not that OP has made a mistake and believes that the phone will be always recording versus always listening for the wake up word

    2. Glitsy Gus*

      Yeah, I do think husband should certainly get more information in regards to how this works and what the intention is.

      Regardless, though, the fact the company didn’t disclose it right away and give this information, rather than making employees ask for it, is not great. It would be enough to make me wonder if there wasn’t a better option elsewhere.

  24. It's certainly possible*

    As an FYI to those wondering how they could possibly use all of those audio recordings in any feasible manner I will say this.

    15 years ago I worked for a call center that had over 300 phone reps. The company purchased a system for audio recording every call that went in or out of the call center, for auditing purposes. That software system would record every call in or out and convert them all to a test file that could then be searched for specific words or phrases similar to a word doc.
    Again, that was 15 years ago.

    It’s definitely possible for a company to buy a software now that would do this for these recordings and be able to search for terms and such, without listening to hundreds of hours of audio.

    1. CAA*

      15 years ago I was working for the company that probably sold that system to your employer. (We had one competitor, but they didn’t have very good transcription).

    2. AnotherAlison*

      What would they be looking for in this case? If they wanted to record actual phone calls, like a call center, fine. Makes some sense. Business conversations would be on video chat or the cell phone as a call. Why do they need to record the external household conversations, which in almost every case I can think of would be with someone who is not an employee? Have they set up a search for, “Sure, I can sneak off at 3:00 today”?

      1. I'm just here for the cats*

        Why do employers make people put thier web cameras on all day. THey don’t trust that htier employees are actually working THis way they can look/listen and see oh john spoke to his wife for 5 minutes. He wasn’t doing his job, lets dock his pay.

        1. Amethystmoon*

          But people do this at work anyway when they are physically there. That’s what the coffee/water cooler break areas are for. Presumably no one gets docked pay when they get up to refill their water bottle/get a cup of coffee.

          1. Esmeralda*

            You’re being too logical. Employers get weird when people want to work from home.

            One of the few good things in the last few months is the evidence (as in, we have actual data) that not only were our constituents very satisfied with our service, but we were more productive.

            Hoping that means that when we can go back to work in the office, we can still WFH at least part of the time.

      2. Quill*

        Yes, that, but also probably “resume” “quit” and anything that might be industry-specifically semi-confidential.

        Technologically, it’s possible, the business case behind it – instead of just having all this on file somewhere just in case – is probably pretty convoluted.

    3. Sarra N. Dipity*

      And these days, there’s really good AI that can just scan all the transcripts, group the conversations into themes, do things like sentiment analysis on them, with lovely interfaces that allow you to drill down to the individual date/time/device for anything. (My company uses this for focus groups/open-ended survey questions/etc.)

      1. Tau*

        Yeah, I was going to point this out. Twenty years ago I would have been right there with “but there’s nothing useful they can do with that much data, or?” Then neural networks happened.

      2. Cedrus Libani*

        That’s why I would be tempted to troll whoever’s doing this with something that would cause problems for an AI. Not infinite Baby Shark, that’s too easy. I was thinking more like the unabridged audio-book of Finnegan’s Wake. Ideally played on shuffle mode.

        And of course, if anyone calls you on it, you’re just playing that as background noise to help you concentrate…and you know for sure someone’s listening.

        1. Quill*

          Might have chosen Moby Dick but more modern prose is probably a better blend…

          Then again, I’m currently reading a book about neural nets and they VERY MUCH give you nonsense out if you put nonsense in.

  25. SheLooksFamiliar*

    Is it even remotely possible that the employer did this in error? As in, maybe someone goofed during the system upgrade? Or maybe someone from on high misunderstood the recording capabilities, and really didn’t mean to spy on employees and their families?

    Yes, I’m grabbing at straws but I just can’t get my head around how awful this is. ‘Hold my beer and watch this!’ would be a better reason than what I think is behind it.

  26. embees*

    Someone raised PHI above – I’d add PCI compliance as well. What if you’re placing an order in the background and the company y’all recording picks up a credit card number? They’re legally obligated to handle that in ways that are mind bogglingly complex if you don’t already work in that aren.

    1. Sneaky Ninja for this one*

      This. Our PCI certification was a big deal and a huge headache. I was only on the back end of it, I want nothing to do with the implementation.

    2. Eliza*

      I could be wrong, but PCI compliance doesn’t mean “anyone who hears a random credit card number in the background of a phone call.” If they are not in the business of taking payments and storing instruments, PCI doesn’t apply.

  27. LTL*

    Even if you’re in a one-party consent law, can’t you withdraw consent? I feel like consenting to someone recording you doesn’t mean that person can then record you at any time for the rest of your life.

    1. I'm just here for the cats*

      It’s my understanding that its each time. For example, I worked at a call center and if we had to make an outbound call to a client we had to say something like “before we continue, i need to let you know this call is being recorded for quality purposes.” Even if we just spoke to them 2 seconds before and they had already gotten the message from the greeting when they called in. One time I had a customer whos call dropped like 3 times in a row. I was in a middle of a time sensitive transaction so It wasn’t like I could say call later. Each time I called her back I had to go through my speil. I could just imagine her rolling her eyes ( she was really sweet). I told her, I’m sorry but I have to do this legally.

      1. Delta Delta*

        That’s right. There are 2 parties: the recordER and the recordEE. The recordER consented.

      2. Sharpie*

        I’m not in the US so maybe I’ve misunderstood… Doesn’t the party consenting to be recorded actually have to be involved in the conversation being recorded? Because if so, the company isn’t necessarily involved in the conversation being recorded if the phone’s being used to record stuff happening in the room where it it’s located. In that particular scenario, wouldn’t that be an illegal recording?

        1. Thornus*

          That is how it works, yes.

          If it’s a one-party consent state, the employer recording just communications with the employee is fine.
          If it’s a one-party consent state, the employer recording communications which are solely between the employee and the spouse is probably not fine.
          If it’s a one-party consent state, the employer recording communications which do not involve the employer or employer, such as between the spouse and a child in a room where the employee left the phone, is definitely Not Fine.

          The same analysis applies to two-party consent states, assuming the employee has explicitly (or implicitly? Never heard of implicit consent when it came to recording conversations) consented to the recording.

    2. Marzipan Shepherdess*

      Well, the employee might be able to withdraw consent, but then the employer could turn around and fire them – not the outcome that the LW wants! And as much as I love the suggestions of putting “Baby Shark” or some other mind-numbing music on an endless loop and blasting that into the phone, that could result in the employee being fired as well. But hey, that’s what fantasy is for, right? (It’s not limited to fluffy pink unicorns! ;)

  28. Jen MaHRtini*

    Adding here this probably wasn’t HR’s idea – any decent HR person would have put a stop to this.

    1. Observer*

      Well, they obviously did not put a stop to it. So either they don’t have competent HR, or HR is not in the loop in consequential decisions – which is ALSO an HR practice. A TERRIBLE practice.

      1. Jen MaHRtini*

        HR doesn’t always have final say, they’re advisors to the business. My point was only that it probably didn’t arise from that department.

    2. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

      Any decent HR person would have put a stop to this.

      Maybe they didn’t realize what this software update did, or maybe there’s a not-decent person at that company. Which could be someone in IT, someone in HR, someone in management… You can train people, and test for competence, but testing for malice is a lot harder.

  29. Dumpster Fire*

    Great idea! I was going to suggest a low pitched noise running all the time, but that would be annoying as hell.

  30. Grits McGee*

    Also- what are the legal boundaries of one-party consent in this situation. If husband goes to the bathroom, leaves the phone recording in the playroom, and then the OP and someone else have a conversation, is that illegal?

    1. Jane of all Trades*

      Agreed. Also, am I right in reading that this records 24/7 (not just during work hours?)? I usually carry my work phone with me (that type of industry), which means that if I’m at dinner with a friend, or out and about, or anywhere really, I have the phone on me.

      If the same is true for op’s husband, there are tons of people, and probably a good amount of private conversations, consistently being recorded.

      In his position I would put that thing in a box that muffles sound, and only take it out during the workday when necessary (while also looking for a new job, and checking in with the employer to make sure there isn’t a mistake or misunderstanding).

  31. Amethystmoon*

    What the heck? Can you turn off the phone to avoid the recording, or does it record even when it is turned on? Can he purposely drain the battery to stop it? I would do one of the others. Same with the laptop, I would turn it off and unplug it when not working. You can also physically remove a battery from a laptop. But yeah, this is definitely overkill.

    I wonder what your state wiretap laws say about recording children without their parents’ permission? Because even assuming the adults give permission, I’m not sure how that would extend to minors.

  32. Jennifer*

    Oh HELL no.

    That phone would be “accidentally” dropped in the toilet and blamed on one of the kids.

  33. Observer*

    By the way, OP, Jon Hyman is an *employER* side lawyer. Which is to say that he’s not going to reflexively say “bad employer” any time something someone doesn’t like happens.

    Which is to say that when you talk to anyone about this, if their first reaction is along the lines of “Oh, these guys are just looking to help employees goof off / make a buck of their employers / whatever nonsense” you can point out that someone whose whole job is defending employers thinks that this is a terrible idea and probably a legal issue.

    1. Meyers and Briggs were not real doctors*

      Is it possible the employer is being investigated for corruption or ? and the feds are using the Patriot Act to record all calls of employees? (That’s what my pops thinks, but he’s a conspiracy theorist!) I’m not well versed in PA saga stuff or how the feds would/could get such a wide range wiretapping warrants. He thinks for investigating juvenile trafficing rings and such that it could happen. ? Not my area of expertise!

  34. Three Flowers*

    Put it in a sound-insulated drawer with a small speaker playing “Never Gonna Give You Up” on endless repeat.

    But seriously, my jaw is on the floor. This is one of the worst Crappy Things an Employer Did that I’ve ever seen on AAM.

    1. Troutwaxer*

      I’m not sure it’s as bad as the boss who demanded that people test as liver donors for his brother, but it’s definitely up there. And naturally, we’ll want an update!

      1. Three Flowers*

        Fair point. I had blanked that one out because sweet mother of dragons, it was outrageous.

    2. King Friday XIII*

      I wouldn’t even need to do anything specifically to bother whoever is monitoring. A speaker in a room with Prince Tuesday is going to get her no-holes-barred six hour rendition of the Frozen soundtrack whether they want it or not.

      1. Three Flowers*

        This too. Or “accidentally” lose the phone in the “It’s a Small World” ride at Disney (got stuck on that once for about half an hour and nearly lost my marbles).

        1. LilyC*

          I once got stuck for most of an hour on Pirates of the Caribbean, in the scene with the Yo Ho song, and it’s just as maddening.

    3. Not a cat*


      FROM: IT

      Our latest phone PII security update has been RickRolled. Please advise.

    4. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

      LOL! I was just going to say to either put the phone mic near a white noise speaker, like others have mentioned, or near a speaker playing an annoying song on repeat. Haha!

    5. Van Wilder*

      This is the best suggestion so far. Bonus if you can get a bunch of coworkers to also do it.

    6. blaise zamboni*

      Mine would be the 10-hour version of He-Man’s What’s Going On.

      And I pray! oh my god do I pray! I pray every day! to topple this bs institution!

  35. Observer*

    On a separate note, OP< "getting into trouble" is not even your biggest issue. If you don't care about your privacy, that's your prerogative. But, if ALL conversations around your husband are being recorded, that means that any time you talk about anything in the least bit private that concerns another person, you've just breached THEIR privacy. That's not good. If you are talking about anything sensitive about your kids, then you are breaching you KID'S privacy. And that's a really garbage thing to do to a family.

    It's not for nothing that Jon Myman jumped to the "common law privacy" issue. This is just utterly egregious.

    1. Jennifer*

      I don’t see that she doesn’t care about their privacy. She’s just pointing out that they haven’t really talked about anything super serious or salacious. But I get the sense she realizes what a huge invasion of privacy it is.

      1. Observer*

        I’m not saying that she doesn’t care about her privacy. I’m saying that EVEN for a couple who doesn’t care *for themselves* this presents genuine problems.

        Also, and I should have made this clear, this also relates to consent. Like maybe the employer could tell Husband that a condition of keeping his job is to get consent from OP. But you can’t do that with other people. And when you are doing that to kids, that’s a whole different kettle of fish.

  36. Lana Kane*

    “he can approach it of course they must not have realized this and of course they will want to correct once they do. ”

    I wanted to hone in on this part of the advice, because I see it often but have concerns about.

    I think that saying this really hinges on getting the tone right. I have seen this play out negatively more that once, because the “of course” tone can either a) be delivered with too much assurance and can come across as presumptuous, or b) can be taken as such even if delivered correctly by a manager who does not like any feedback or correction, which then obfuscates the original point being made.

    I’m wondering if anyone has had success with this, and what they think made the approach successful?

  37. I Need That Pen*

    I’m in full agreement with the attorney to start polishing up the old resume. If my husband’s company did this the only thing I can see them doing is asking him is if his wife was ever a sailor or a truck driver.

    This whole work from home thing is new to a lot of us out here but hear me when I say WE ARE WORKING!!! Record that.

    The amount of distrust out there is astounding (not really) but theoretically it is…

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      And if the employee isn’t working, don’t you have better ways to tell than recording the ambient conversation in their home?

      I admit I have been at less than 100% today because of my child care situation this week. However, I’ve worked extra hours at a few points in the past month or so. I’m exempt and we don’t track this stuff hour-for-hour, but I’d be hugely resentful of a company that thought that they had the right to criticize me for taking my kids to the park over a long lunch or going to check out their newest lego creation briefly during a global pandemic, if I’m otherwise a solid employee. The kind of monitoring and nitpicking is a great way to destroy morale and ensure employees don’t go above and beyond the minimum for their employers.

    2. Amethystmoon*

      I have to wonder, these companies that have to monitor people to figure out if they are doing their jobs or not, why are their internal tracking and data systems not transparent enough that managers can easily tell if something isn’t being done? At the company I work for, those of us at my level would immediately be complained about to our managers if we did not do our jobs. It would be known within a day or two that we didn’t get something done on time. Things get marked in a computer system when completed and e-mails are sent out to everyone who is relevant to that thing. Can’t other companies just implement systems like that? I know, computer systems cost money, but it could easily be worked around things like Microsoft Excel or Access that most businesses use anyway.

  38. CAA*

    Having worked quite a lot with telephony systems that record and transcribe audio, I suspect that there’s been a misunderstanding and the phone is not actually recording all ambient noise in its vicinity. It sounds like this is something like an IP phone (since it’s tied to his computer and updated remotely) and the company is distributing calls to representatives via a central switch and recording the audio portion of the actual call on specialized hardware that is located in their data center. This is what happens when you hear “your call may be recorded for quality control” or similar statements. What I think probably happened here is that the company switched from a “random recording” plan (meaning that some calls are recorded) to a “full recording” plan (meaning that all calls are recorded) and didn’t explain things clearly.

    If, for some strange reason, the phone is recording everything, I can guarantee nobody is actually listening to it all. The actual calls are marked at their start/end times and the recording systems provide ways to search the metadata by date/time/originating number/agent/duration/ etc. People listen to a few random audio files in order to evaluate their agents or they look for specific files to resolve customer issues (e.g. “I said I wanted fifteen of these and you sent me fifty.”)

    1. Ominous Adversary*

      It doesn’t matter if nobody is listening to all of it. It’s an invasion of their privacy and they shouldn’t have to rely on the boredom or goodwill of the snoops.

      1. CAA*

        Yes, I agree that IF the phone is actually recording everything then that is a problem. I am just trying to explain the logistics of how this stuff actually works.

        1. Observer*

          No, you are explaining how YOU think this situation is playing out.

          It is unfortunately absolutely possible for the phone to be doing what the OP says it is. In addition your “guarantee” is meaningless. If stuff is being recorded and kept for even a short time, you do NOT know who is listening to what. ESPECIALLY when decisions this bad are being made, trusting them to handle this stuff responsibly is simply ignoring reality.

    2. Observer*

      It doesn’t look like you actually read what the OP wrote – if you re-read it you will see that they are most definitely talking about the phone recording ambient sound.

      Also, it does NOT matter if no one is listening to “everything”. There is absolutely no good reason for the company t be ABLE to listen to this stuff. And you really, really don’t want someone to wind up listening to the conversation about the problem Johnny had with his teacher, or Jimmy’s bed wetting, or Jill’s boyfriend problems, etc. If the company REALLY thinks that “no one is ever going to listen to that stuff” then they SHOULD NOT RECORD IT.

      1. CAA*

        As I said, it’s extremely unlikely that the phone is doing what OP thinks it’s doing. It’s certainly worth her husband spending a few minutes to ask whether his understanding of the system is accurate before taking other actions.

  39. AndersonDarling*

    I worked for a company that installed “wiretap” software in the company laptops so executives could listen to conversations wherever a laptop was. I only found out when two IT consultants quit because they refused to install it. There was so much shady stuff going on that executives wanted to spy on the staff to see if they were onto their schemes. Our CEO was a dingbat and signed off on it. Thank goodness one manager stood up and said that our staff regularly enters hospitals and have conversations with doctors and patients and that is wrong, wrong, wrong to spy on those conversations (HIPAA and all).
    It goes to show how far off the rails a company can go.

    1. misspiggy*

      Jeepers. I’m amazed that the health confidentiality argument won, considering how ready the managers were to put aside all other ethical concerns.

  40. WTH*

    I’ll make you a Faraday Cage box with foam lining to put it in in the mean time. WTAF are they thinking?

  41. DapperDev*

    What the eff is wrong with people… Recording you and your family?! This is just bizarre..

    I would honestly begin quietly looking for a new job and play some white-noise machine to drown out the phone/laptop. I’d also start recording dates/times of when it appears you are being recorded, as well as take photos or video if possible. What the hell is wrong with people..

    Some of these employers really do whatever they want because they feel entitled, but that certainly doesn’t make it right. Geez..

  42. The New Normal*

    OP, it doesn’t matter how innocuous you think the conversation is. This is a completely nefarious action.

    Imagine if you casually mentioned to your husband that your baby is bruising a lot lately. Whomever is listening in at that company manages to catch that remark and decides that your baby likely has leukemia instead of being of the age where they are learning to walk. They notify higher-ups that there is going to be a huge hit to the medical coverage because of your kid, so they decide to get rid of your husband to avoid that expense. That’s the freaking Crazy Train this company is on.

    Your husband needs to talk to his coworkers about this immediately. They need to get together to push back against the company. But make sure he does it on his private phone out in the yard! And honestly, unless they act hugely embarrassed about this policy and terminate whomever it was that thought of it, I’d get out.

  43. Penquin*

    Maybe check with the manager to make sure this was intentional…sounds like it might be a virus rather than an official update.

  44. Sasha "Potato Girl" Blause*

    In recording statues, does it matter if the consent was coerced? And does “Your spouse must consent, or you lose the privileges of food, shelter, and medicine” even count as coercion? Otherwise, I’m not seeing why the consent laws matter. (I mean, aside from the fact that it’s creepy af to do recordings when consent hasn’t been freely given. Obviously OP’s husband’s company is gross.)

    1. Observer*

      They matter because no one has yet told anyone that they need to make their spouses / SO’s consent. And because there are conversations with OTHER people who have not consented. And because there are privacy issues that are covered aside from consent laws, such as recording conversations with and / or about minors.

  45. I'm just here for the cats*

    So does the company record outside of work hours or is it just when he is “on”? either way it is way creepy and invasion of privacy. It’s one thing to record a phone call (like if you work in a call center) but defiantly not cool any other time.
    I also wonder if he is talking to clients what the reprocusion might be? For example, when I worked for a call center if we had to call a customer back, even if we had just spoken to them seconds before, we required to say “I need to let you know that this call is being recorded for quality purposes.” One time I kept dropping a call and each time I had to say that because in the system it records as a new call. If something happened and an Audit was done I could have gotten into trouble because.
    I bet clients would be very interested to know that they were being recorded, unless its already mentioned.

  46. CouldntPickAUsername*

    forward the calls to another phone and stick this one somewhere like the attic.

  47. Almost Empty Nester*

    With the context provided by OP, I have to believe it was unintentional and someone in IT hit the wrong button when they sent out the new equipment and didn’t intend for it to be recording like this. That’s the only logical conclusion, right?

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Their IT must be absolutely incompetent if they haven’t noticed the extra data loads coming in. I once pushed out a patch that caused every PC in the firm to send a detailed status update multiple times a day (not intentional, it was a bug, I hadn’t tested it thoroughly) and our servers went wild within a few minutes.

      Better believe I reversed that deployment fast!

  48. Keymaster of Gozer*

    The evil IT admin side of me says record your kids making gross bodily noises (all kids do I believe) then stick the playback on a low volume loop RIGHT next to the computer/phone microphone.

    Plays absolute havoc with any speech to text converters they might be using (do not ask me how I know that. Tech support can be an immature job) and makes listening to any further away speech very very difficult (ditto don’t ask).

    1. M. Albertine*

      Heh. My first thought was to set it right next to the speaker of whatever TV the kids are watching. An 8-hour loop of Paw Patrol, PJ Masks, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, etc. would drive anyone nuts. Ask me how I know, and no judgments on my parenting! :)

  49. Seventh Night*

    I know the OP said they were a stay at home parent, but now I’m wondering what would happen if the OP were working from home in a position with confidential information such as a counsellor or such and that level of conversation got recorded by the husband’s company.

    Even as it stands, I’m not sure how anyone could even feel comfortable in their home at all knowing that someone -might- be listening to everything. (shudder)

    1. EvilQueenRegina*

      OP may not be in that position, but there’s every chance that at least one employee in husband’s company has a family member working from home in that situation.

  50. Mannheim Steamroller*

    Thought #1…
    If you can, conduct your private conversations in a language other than English. If the boss complains, then your suspicions (and ours) will be confirmed.

    Thought #2…
    Would plugging in the earbuds reduce the amount of ambient noise that the company can hear?

    1. Amethystmoon*

      Great idea. Most people can learn Pig Latin, even if they don’t speak any other languages. Or develop an internal household secret code (using paper so it’s not recorded, of course).

  51. Kahunabob*

    This feels like Orson Welles’ 1984 dialled up to eleven. Or, the big commy scare western civilization was so scared of in the 50’s and 60’s… It’s not the USSR listening in anymore, it’s (big) corporations that are going nuts. Whoever thought this was a Good Idea ™ needs to get fired. Pronto.

    1. Julia*

      Orson Welles’ 1984?

      What is that? I’m only familiar with the book ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ written by George Orwell (Eric Blair). Welles might well have known about the book but he never made a film based on it.

      Or did you mix up an American actor/director/writer/producer with an English novelist/essayist/journalist/critic? ლ,ᔑ•ﺪ͟͠•ᔐ.ლ

  52. Jay*

    I am going to give you the same advice my company gave me in the event of something like this: Contact your I.T. department immediately.
    There is a pretty good chance that this was NOT an intended outcome, or the work of Creepy Dave from Marketing. When they find out about it, it will likely be rolled back.
    How was the new feature added to the phone? Did you have to agree to anything? Manually install anything?
    Because my biggest concern here is that this was not an employer sanctioned update at all.
    That you and your family are the victims of a Fishing/Spearfishing campaign.
    It would not make sense for your company to spend the money to have someone sitting around listening to you talk to your family all day.
    But someone targeting you specifically?
    In order to get recordings of passwords and other confidential information that could be used to potentially defraud your employer out of millions?
    Yeah, that could very well be worth it.

    1. AppleStan*

      You brought up some things I didn’t think about, but I agree that I just can’t commit to the idea that this was an intended and planned outcome by the company – in light of how they have not been bothered by other things going on during the WFH/Corona Situation.

    2. ...*

      I literally cannot fathom how someone can think their house is being recorded 24/7 and write to an advice column instead of I dont know, CALLING IT!?

      1. Observer*

        That’s one of the reasons I suspect that this is a bit of a toxic situation. Which makes it a bit more possible that something like that is actually going on, whether on purpose or not.

    3. Wendy Darling*

      To me this sounds like a mix of misunderstanding and MDM gone wild — like the company made their device management policy more strict and in so doing demand mic access at all times. They might not be USING said mic access. It’s still super creepy that they have it, though.

  53. Kiki*

    This is one of those situations where even if they can do it legally, if you clarify what’s going on with your manager and folks higher up and nobody is like, “Whoa, this is a nightmare scenario! Had no idea the scope of this software! Going to roll this back ASAP” I don’t think you really want to work there anyway and should start looking elsewhere.

  54. Sharon*

    Is it possible there’s been a misunderstanding here and calls made from husband’s work phone (in the office) have always been recorded (for regulatory reasons or whatever), and the employer has simply added that capability to the phone he uses now? If that’s the case, the simple solution is only use the work phone for work.

    If the phone is truly recording everything in the vicinity whether he is on call or not, that’s very intrusive (not to mention, a lot of extra work for the company from a monitoring and recordkeeping perspective).

  55. Western Rover*

    My elderly mother recently got a phone that has someone listening to her callers and typing in what they say so she can read it on a screen. Even though it’s for a benign purpose I always find myself aware of the hidden captionist when I call, and I unintentionally put on an “orator” voice and feel like I’m on stage. It would drive me bananas to have that feeling 24×7 even when I’m not on the phone.

    1. Pennyworth*

      Umm – the ‘someone listening’ will be a computer algorithm. My phone does it whenever I give it a voice command for a Google search. No-one is listening.

        1. Western Rover*

          It is in fact a service for the deaf, and I know they have human captioning agents as my daughter’s friend works as one for the same company. They aren’t necessarily typing; they may be repeating what I say to a speech recognizer trained to their voice.

      1. Wendy Darling*

        Actually a percentage of voice commands are listened to and transcribed by whatever company runs the voice assistant. They use that data to train their speech recognizers. I’ve worked in various areas of language tech my entire professional life, including doing analysis of those transcriptions for QA.

        Now, those transcriptionists do not give a single solitary darn what you are saying unless, like, you asked Alexa to play their favorite super obscure band and they think that’s cool or w/e. And I don’t know what percentage of voice traffic gets transcribed — it’s somewhere in the ballpark of a fraction of a percent. But it is POSSIBLE that a human will listen to any given thing you say to that algorithm.

      2. Gramsas*

        Telecommunication Relay systems for the hearing impaired still involve a live person (communications assistant) to facilitate communication between TTD and phone users.

  56. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    This is like having some nosy gossip queen at work only 100 times worse. Thankful to know I live in a 2 party consent state.

  57. Not That Kind of Lawyer*

    An important note about one-party consent laws, some of the one-party consent states require that the recorder actually be a part of the conversation. Presumably, the husband’s employer (as the one recording through the devices) is not part of the conversations LW is
    having with her husband; therefore the recording is likely illegal.

    1. whistle*

      I think idea is the that LW’s husband does consent, so he’s the consenting party. However, as others have pointed out above, this system would likely also record conversations in the home that the LW’s husband does not participate in, and those recordings would be illegal.

  58. Choggy*

    I’m curious how you know there was “a system update to my husband’s work-provided phone. (His work phone and work computer are connected, and both were updated.) This new update means the phone is continuously recording everything around it.”? The company just performed this update without any kind of reason why?

    1. Observer*

      That’s not terribly surprising. Companies update their computers and systems on a regular basis. That’s normal (and usually GOOD) practice.

      1. Choggy*

        Yes, we do updates all the time but always let our users know about the update and why we are doing it (we certainly have never added the ability to record conversations other than phone conversations which is at the discretion of the user to record). So how does OP and her husband know, after the update, that they are now being recorded without the company expressly telling them? Or is this a case where they know it’s occurring, but was done without any type of explanation? In that case, why not ask the company about it?

  59. Alex*

    This comment will not be constructive in any way, but I am not sure if I, if put in this situaiton, would be able to refrain from making a lot of fart noises right into the phone on a regular basis.

    Right before I found another job of course.

    1. whistle*

      Oh, I like this.

      OP, my dog would be happy to come make fart noises into your phone. I mean, yes, she will actually be farting and not just making noises, but she’ll be really cute while she does this, so it should be win-win.

  60. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

    A company program that can technically record and “observe” the actions of minors (any children in this case) freaks me out. Ever since I heard of nanny cams getting hacked for creeps to speak to children, I absolutely would not want a third party recording my child.

  61. Llellayena*

    I can think of so many ways this is bad:
    “Look another positive pregnancy test” = “we’ll he’s going to take parental leave in a few months so no big projects”
    “Look we just paid off our mortgage/credit cards” = “well he doesn’t need that raise”
    “honey do you think we need to change school systems?” = “he might job hunt so let’s not promote him”
    “hon, what’s the PIN for our taxes/atm?”
    if the phone goes with him to a docs office (not sure if it’s also a personal phone) there’s some serious hipaa violations
    if the phone goes with him to a bank it might record OTHER PEOPLE’s financial transactions

    This needs to get squashed. I agree that the “I’m sure you realize the legal issues…” language might be best to start. But also check with other coworkers to see if they got the update too (check that it’s not just a hack to the OP) and if they agree on the implications – then push back as a group.

  62. Hamburke*

    I don’t worry, or think, a lot about much electronic intrusion – I own a Google Home device and I want it to access more, I tell strangers the general area where I live, etc- but this is overstepping. That phone would be turned off except when I need to use it. I definitely wouldn’t be checking messages after hours. Security codes can come to my email, you can schedule calls with me or we can use an over-computer phone system. This is a big nope from me.

  63. Ghostly Apparition*

    I think I would just keep a fluffy folded dish towel over the phone any time I wasn’t actively on a call. At least until this problem is taken care of.

    1. Pennyworth*

      A towel will not be nearly enough to block ambient conversations. I have had a conversation with a friend while her phone was in her jacket pocket.

  64. Rowan0*

    The company is also exposing itself to liability for anything that id recorded, which should be enough to stop the practice. The corporation is creating corporate institutional knowledge for anything recorded, therefore if a crime is recorded, even if it is unrelated to the business and the business fails to act, they could have liability. This would be particularly true if the corporation is in a mandatory reporting state for child abuse or neglect.

    The only upside to this policy is the victims of crimes would have deep pockets to pursue.

  65. Wendy Darling*

    Are they actually recording all the time, or is this just some kind of overzealous MDM (mobile device management) policy that requires always-on microphone access? Is the phone actually recording audio and uploading it 24/7, or does it just have the ABILITY to do so? Because overly invasive device management policies are unfortunately pretty normal so I wouldn’t be surprised if people didn’t push back on one of those.

    Even if it is just MDM that’s still a huge overstep and people ought to push back, but it’s less bizarre and invasive than constant recording.

  66. cmmj*

    What an incredible coincidence that this is also the time you have taken to streaming operas at the loudest possible volume every speaker in you house allows!
    Fully kidding, but yeah just echoing most everyone else here…this is a bizarre over step and not at all okay. I get I’m biased because I don’t use voice control anything and have never allowed an Alexa/similar devices in my home… but jeez this is a huge violation! I also understand why Alison is pushing to go more of the route of liability on the company’s part. Someone who would do this isn’t going to be swayed by appeals of general human privacy, but they might listen if there’s a lawsuit at stake. TLDR…This is absolutely worth pushing back on in whatever way your husband feels comfortable doing!

  67. Pennalynn Lott*

    And here I’ve been wondering if my company is going to install tracker software on my laptop followed by a phone call from my manager, “Pennalynn, it’s OK to do personal things on your work laptop but if you could refrain from accessing Facebook during work hours, that’d be great.”


    Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope, nope, nope, nope. That phone would be in a drawer, wrapped in a towel unless I was actively using it.

  68. Bookslinger In My Free Time*

    Holy boundary stomping micro managers Batman!

    In all seriousness, my manager is a pretty obsessive micro manager who HATES people working from home, and he wouldn’t dream of going this far. It says volumes about the employer that this is totally acceptable, and I would be seriously re-evaluating how much I wanted to work there.

  69. Mannheim Steamroller*

    Is your husband required to keep his work phone on even outside of his official work hours (because somebody is monitoring it)? If so, then off-hours are the perfect time for loud music, NSFW conversations, even strategic burping and farting.

  70. Diamond*

    Wait did they actually announce that they will be recording you? Or did you somehow surmise this from the update notifications? It just seems like a huge drain on battery, memory and data to be constantly recording and then saving or sending it somewhere. Are you sure that’s what’s happening?

  71. Greg*

    I don’t really understand. Is the phone dialed in to a number? What if you turned off WiFi and put in airplane mode?

  72. LondonLady*

    Turn up the ringer volume then put the phone in a drawer. That way he can hear it but it can’t hear you. You can always get it out when OH is doing something he wants them to hear.

  73. Sleeplessinseattle*

    Most phishing email bait is taken from real-world cases. So if you got one about an exit interview, it’s because a phishing campaign uses those. Sounds like it would work immediately on OP1’s coworker, too. I agree it seems insensitive, but that’s why it works, and why the IT department should make sure to train people on it.

  74. Mayor of Llamatown*

    I can’t wait to read this to my libertarian spouse and watch their face slowly melt in horror.

    OP, please update further once your husband decides what to do! (I saw the update above but I’m desperate to know if he pushes back more and what happens.)

  75. Janice From Accounting*

    While I think this awful and I would be outraged if my employer did this, I’d also find some humor in all of the things that go on in our apartment that no one else would ever want to hear because it would make them very uncomfortable. Kind of serves them right for invading an employee’s privacy outside of working hours.

    “Whats that?? Apparently our corporate wiretap recorded a swinger party at Janice’s from accounting and we also found out that she has been re-watching True Blood for the 6th time.”

    Take that corporate spies!!

  76. Hank Stevens*

    Wow, it’s hard to imagine that the phones audio is recording 24/7 and it can’t be turned off. I use my work phone most of the time, but I even turn off the locations services once I’m off the clock, it’s not my companies business.

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