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If you’ve ever wanted to show off your Excel skills, we’ve got great news. The Financial Modeling World Cup is an annual tournament pitting 128 contestants against each other to flex their favorite formulas and functions. This year’s final aired on ESPN3, and the winner, Andrew “NGOAT” Ngai, took home a grand prize of $10k.

Today’s rundown:

  • Spying bosses: Remote work has led to a boom in employee monitoring software.
  • Buzzword chart: The one word execs used 70% more this year.
  • Peloton debacle: Can the company sue HBO over its product placement predicament?
  • Around the web: Sleep tricks, squirrel mazes, and more wild internet things.

Let’s do it.

The big idea
Sam spying

Employers are spying on workers… to their own detriment

As remote work rose amid the pandemic, many employers began trying to monitor workers in their homes. A new report indicates that — unsurprisingly — this does not improve morale.

The Joint Research Centre (JRC), the European Commission’s science and knowledge service, recently released its “Electronic Monitoring and Surveillance in the Workplace” report, which examined 398 articles about workplace surveillance.

It found that in 2020:

  • Global demand for employee monitoring software increased by 108% in April and 70% in May, compared with 2019.
  • Online searches for “how to monitor employees working from home” increased by 1,705% in April and 652% in May.
  • Employee monitoring software companies saw increased sales inquiries. For example, inquiries for tracking app DeskTime were up 333% in April.

At-home monitoring techniques vary…

… but typically involve tools that track employees’ keystrokes, communication, social media accounts, desktops, or — gulp — even webcams.

Sneek, a service that snaps webcam photos of employees every 5 minutes, saw its signups boom tenfold and reached 10k+ users amid the pandemic. (Sneek says it’s not for spying, but building office culture.)

Moving into serious yikes territory, employees at a UK call center were told they’d be monitored by webcams and AI that would report infractions like eating or being absent from their desks.

To avoid being reported, employees could click a “break” button and explain where they were going (e.g., to the bathroom, to get water).

And how do workers feel about this?

They don’t like it (duh).

Per the report, task-based monitoring — how much work is done and how well — is seen as the least intrusive type of monitoring.

But monitoring the process employees use to complete those tasks strips them of autonomy and can cause “negative psycho-social outcomes,” like stress or waning commitment.

It can also lead to resistance. Vice recently reported on the rise of “mouse movers” to bypass software that detects mouse movement.

And ultimately, employees may just quit. Hey, nobody likes a micromanager.

For more: Check out ZDNet’s interview with Kirstie Ball, the report’s author.

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SNIPPETS

Pricey pants: Adobe reported a 17.3% YoY rise in online apparel prices, compared to a 3.5% rise for all goods. #ecommerce-retail

Four-legged friends: Swiss-Mile, a robotics company in Switzerland, developed a robot that can stand on 2 legs, walk on 4 legs, and drive like a car. #emerging-tech

High-level hack: The Twitter account of India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, was hacked briefly on Sunday, and tweeted that the country would accept bitcoin as legal tender. #privacy

Costly mistake: A collector accidentally sold a Bored Ape Yacht Club NFT for $3k (.75 ETH) instead of $300k (75 ETH), and blamed the mistake on a “fat finger error.” #fintech-crypto

Smartphone startup: Oppo announced its new foldable phone, the Find N, will debut tomorrow, December 15th. #big-tech

MFM: Sam and Shaan explain how YouTuber Meet Kevin made $52m by the age of 29. #mfm

Twitter Thread: Trung Phan shares 10 examples of cross-industry innovations (AKA 1 industry borrowing from another). #hustle-picks

Chart
use of the word journey over time

Visual: Singdhi Sokpo

The hottest new buzzword is…

“Journey.”

S&P 500 execs used the word 3,091 times on conference calls this year, up 70% from 2020. Some instances include:

  • Spam maker Hormel Foods going on a “pricing journey.”
  • T-Mobile going on an “integration journey” with Sprint.
  • Salesforce taking customers on a “connected journey of commerce.”

Because, for analysts, life’s not about quarterly earnings. It’s about their journey with companies along the way (awww).

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Product Placement Problem
Peloton portrayal

Can Peloton sue HBO for the portrayal of its bike?

Do you plan on watching HBO’s “Sex and the City” reboot (titled “And Just Like That”)?

If so, mini-spoiler alert: the show’s first episode shows something bad happening to one of the characters after riding a Peloton.

$PTON stock fell 10%+ in the first two days after the HBO premiere.

Peloton agreed for one of its instructors…

… to be on the show, but was (obviously) unaware of the plot point, per CNBC.

Can Peloton sue HBO? To answer that, The New York Times notes there are 2 types of product agreements:

  • Product placement: A brand pays to be featured in a show or movie
  • Trademark: A production secures the right to use a trademarked brand onscreen

Peloton hasn’t indicated its arrangement. However, under the trademark agreement, a principle called “nominative fair use” says that a product can be used as long as it’s done so in a way “consistent with the original trademark.”

A legal expert tells the NYT that HBO’s portrayal of the Peloton misrepresents the brand and “tarnished” its “good will to customers.”

Peloton is declining legal action at the moment

And a doctor on its health and wealth advisory council suggests the health of the show’s character would benefit — rather than be harmed — by use of the bike.

Peloton also hit back over the weekend with an ad featuring the actor who plays the character that had the “bad thing” happen.

Ryan Reynolds narrates the video, which — spoiler alert — means it’s hilarious. And the stunt may have worked: Peloton’s stock rebounded 7%+ on Monday.

Further reading: We covered the economics of product placements previously, here.

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AROUND THE WEB

👸 ​​On this day: In 1542, Mary, Queen of Scots, became the queen of Scotland following the death of her father, King James V. She was only 6 days old.

😴 That’s interesting: Artist Salvador Dali used to intentionally interrupt his sleep to boost creativity. Researchers now say his tactic might actually work.

📚 Useful: This site lists the most recommended books on Reddit, both generally and broken down by subreddit.

☕️ Art: Italian artist Giulia Bernardelli creates detailed artworks from spilled coffee, like this one of Vienna.

🤝 How to: Recent devastating tornadoes in Kentucky have cost many families their homes and belongings. USA Today has a list of nonprofits accepting donations to help victims.

🐿 Wait, what: It turns out if you build an elaborate maze for squirrels, they will eventually learn how to crush it.

Pic of the day
mouse meme

That’s one way to beat the employee monitoring software… (Source: Imgur)

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