I first came across keystroke monitoring in the mid eighties when researching the design of user interfaces. Before the internet existed but at a time of wide spread use of computers by office workers.
Our goal was to examine whether an individual user would perform better with one interface design than with another. Psychological tests were used to assess individual differences and keystroke monitoring helped assess user performance. (Hello Computer p85).
I was shocked by how easy it was to monitor not only keystrokes but also thinking time between keystrokes. Our software could see:
- Which keys were pressed
- If a mistake was being made
- What kind of mistake it was
- How many times the user tried to correct it
- How long it took to arrive at the correct input
Enabling us to analyse:
- Gaps between keyboard entries
- Measure ‘thinking time’
- Interpret what the user was doing between gaps
- How quickly each task was performed
I found this both exciting and worrying.
It was 1984.
A brief encounter with the cautionary tale of George Orwell and the dystopian future.
If I was worried then I’m even more worried now. Keystroke monitoring or keylogging software is much more powerful. It runs in the background of a computer and records not only every key you press but every mouse click you make. It can record the content of emails, passwords, personal online chats. Such ‘employer monitoring tools’ can also take screenshots of a worker’s computer screen.
As Jack Morse of Mashable put it:
‘For anyone who has ever checked a personal email, bank account balance, or the results of a medical test on a work computer, the above described scenario is a nightmare.’
The Orwellian thing about all this is that it is perfectly legal. You have virtually no right to privacy on employer-provided computers.
It’s not just that ‘factual’ data is being collected but what can be inferred from that data.
Not just my every act being monitored but my every thought . . .