Posted by: healingtheworkplace | August 12, 2008

eSlavery 2.0

Gee, I thought we’d abolished slavery centuries ago. Not according to Allen Stern who writes about a frightening new form of employee abuse which he calls “eSlavery”.

I read about this worrisome trend in a recent article in the Globe and Mail. The article was called, “Freelance slackers, beware: Big Brother is watching”.  Big Brother in this instance is an on-line company called oDesk.

oDesk hires freelance writers and computer programers and monitors their behavior to make certain that they are not stealing. Here are a few of the ways that people allow themselves to be monitored:

…by posting images of themselves every 10 minutes and having their keyboard and mouse activity monitored…

Of course I had to read further and what to my wondering eyes should appear but a story about the OTHER side of telecommuting or freelancing.

I’ve read lots of stories about the positive side of telecommuting.

For example, it’s good for the environment because telecommuters don’t need to drive to and from work. It’s great for people needing to work and care for small children or elderly parents. It’s also nice to be able to work in the comfort of one’s home, in one’s pajamas.

What I wasn’t aware of was this negative side of telecommuting especially for people who are freelancers and work for “oDesk”. oDesk is one of a growing number of “freelance-for-hire” websites. It also appears to be the only one with this type of micromonitoring of its workers.

However, I’m certain that there are a few (probably more than a few) companies out there that monitor employees who work from home.

Do you telecommute? Does your employer trust you or are you an eSlave?

Have a great week!




  1. Hi Lesley,

    Thanks for writing about oDesk, but I think your post sells oDesk professionals short. They certainly don’t consider themselves slaves.

    Consider these facts:

    1. oDesk *guarantees payment* for hourly work that is logged through our system. This guarantee frees the professional from the burden of chasing slow-paying clients, of vetting the credit-worthiness of clients located anywhere in the world, and of generating invoices. We remove all the risk.

    2. oDesk pros control what information is shared with their clients. The professional must sign-in to oDesk Team to activate it. Once activated, oDesk Team can be set to notify the user each and every time information is about to be transmitted to oDesk servers. The user can discard the info before it is uploaded if they feel that it includes information they don’t want to share. Workers can also delete info after it is uploaded to oDesk if they decide later that they don’t want to share it with their client. This short video provides a good demo:

    3. oDesk supports invoicing of clients for time that is not automatically tracked by oDesk Team. We call it “offline time.” One of the trade-offs is that the provider is not guaranteed payment for that time. We also find that the transparency provided by oDesk Team builds trust, puts upward pressure on hourly rates, and fosters long-term relationships.

    Read for yourself what oDesk providers say about Allen’s eSlavery post:


    Brian Goler
    oDesk –

  2. […] authority wields power for its own sake over its constituents. There is also a suggestion of “eSlavery 2.0” in Lesley Taylor’s blog, […]

  3. Here is what worries me about the program….

    Though this cannot usually happen if due diligence is taken, but if a person is absent minded or does not have enough technical skill to rectify, how he/she could get into trouble.

    Imagine a person has installed odesk and is working and when he is about to give suspend option on his odesk, due to some interruption he forgets. Assuming he has suspended recording, he ends up opening his exclusive private photos or he opens up a page containing all his bank login information and password. The data is recorded and gets uploaded. By the time the person would realize what has happened it would have a 1000 copies all over the net if it is a private like that of Paris Hilton or he would be bankrupt before he tries to change his passwords.

    I do not think this is completely safe from privacy point of view. Also if people are not technically skilled enough to remove content or to able to figure out how to do it, such people should not be doing this at all.

    This does remind of a girl who wrote about her previous night experience on her boyfriend’s facebook without realizing that it was publicly readable. Soon the internet was filled screenshots with her profile photo and what she wrote…

    What will happen when you working on odesk and your girlfriends comes and you both forget to suspend odesk… may be you might have switched it off 1000 times in a year, but if you missed just once… your employer will possibly offer you a better job … but possible a different type of job…

    Also if any virus attack can over your PC, then will this recording system be a headache… ?

    Anyway… I am not sure about how the software works and risks… what I feel is when a giant company like microsoft has 1000 bugs in their software and keep sending updates and service packs to set it right… I wonder if any bugs in odesk could hamper my privacy and ruin my life….

    I do not say dont join odesk or use it… but I just am saying… do it keeping in mind the risks involved with regard to privacy and only if you know what you are doing and how you have to do…

  4. Hi Vinod, you raise some very important points about odesk and the internet in general. I love your examples.

  5. Odesk is the 21st century version of a slave shop. When I first started freelance writing, I looked for jobs on there. Sorry, but making $2 an hour is not worth my time. I could make more money standing on the corner begging for change.

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