How companies are using AI to spy on Slack

Several huge companies are using an AI tool that analyzes Slack conversations for employee sentiment and risks.

It should be an inalienable right to message your co-worker the eye roll emoji whenever your other co-worker does something cringe on Zoom. It is the glue that binds.

A boxy orange robot uses red laser eyes to scan its surroundings.

However, several employers are now using an AI-powered app to analyze and monitor messages across Slack, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and other platforms.

What spy is this?

It’s called Aware, an Ohio-based startup that launched in 2017, per CNBC, and its clients include Nestle, Walmart, Delta Air Lines, and Starbucks.

It uses AI, trained on previous employee interactions, to analyze messages and determine:

  • How various groups of employees feel about the company or decisions it makes.
  • If bullying or discrimination is happening.
  • If employees are sharing confidential info.
  • If employees are sending inappropriate texts, photos, or videos.
  • How often teams communicate with one another.

In theory, this makes it easier for employers to stay on top of employee sentiment and potential risks in an increasingly online world.

Aware CEO Jeff Schumann told TechCrunch that a company with 10k employees might send ~180m messages per year, while larger ones can hit 1B+ — 300%-1k% more than before the pandemic.


… privacy experts worry that even though such tools exist for email communication, tools like Aware could be pretty scary.

Aware lets companies decide what risks and phrases to flag — e.g., violence, harassment, insider trading, etc. — but uses anonymized data and supposedly can’t tell an employer which employee is doing what. But another tool called eDiscovery can flag messages for certain risks, then identify a specific employee.

One expert worries this could become tantamount to tracking thought crimes, while others expressed concern about employees’ ability to defend themselves.

Schumann said all pertinent info and decision-making is ultimately left in the hands of human beings, but, uh, maybe watch what you type to your co-workers from now on.

Fun fact: Schumann’s earlier company was called, geared toward mobile viewers of the reality show “Big Brother,” and named after the always-watching leader of the totalitarian government in George Orwell’s 1984. Aware was previously called Feedcop, then Wiretap. C’mon.

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