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- JPMorgan has sought to become more secretive about its workplace tracking efforts, employees say.
- The bank’s clandestine behavior around its tracking follows an Insider investigation from May.
- Employees have complained that they don’t understand the purpose or extent of the tracking.
JPMorgan Chase is seeking to tamp down on access to an internal company system that monitors virtually everything its staffers do at work, following an Insider investigation that revealed their concerns over its use, according to two current employees with direct knowledge of the program.
The system that company executives have sought to shroud from view is called the “Workplace Activity Data Utility,” or WADU for short. It’s a powerful tracking apparatus that pulls in data about employees’ workplace activities, including how long they spend on Zoom and phone calls and what they do on their company cell phones, among other work-related data.
Insider published a story in May about WADU, detailing employees’ fears over how managers’ use of the data it collects could negatively impact their performance reviews, bonuses, and careers. One current employee even described downloading a mouse “jiggler” to trick the company into thinking the person was working on their home laptop even while taking a bathroom break.
In an effort to rein in further unwanted leaks to the press, bank executives have become even more secretive about the program internally and attempted to crack down on access to the system for people who could be “loose ends,” the two employees, both of whom work in technology roles, told Insider in early July.
Some executives at the firm convened a virtual emergency “fire drill” meeting in late May to decide how to respond to the leaks, one of the employees who attended the small gathering told Insider. Last month, the bank also sent out emails seeking to cull some staffers’ access to the system. And, the two people said, some managers have also been instructed to communicate to their staffers verbally, as opposed to in writing, about updated company policies — such as those tied to its hybrid return to work — in the hopes of minimizing additional leaks of sensitive documents or emails.
People felt disgusted. They just felt as if they were being betrayed.
In an email to Insider, Michael Fusco, a spokesperson for JPMorgan Chase, said that any messages that staffers received last month from the bank inquiring about whether they still needed ongoing access to WADU were part of an “annual recertification of access to all applications in June.” Fusco added that he was “not aware of any direction or meeting with ‘mid-level or senior-level executives’ to restrict access or knowledge of WADU, nor have we made any access changes to the system, as your anonymous source suggests.”
But the tech employee who attended the virtual meeting said Insider’s report was shown on screen to attendees during that gathering, and executives cited it as the cause of the meeting and a reason for them to become more clandestine about WADU.
Reading Insider’s May report about the bank’s surveillance efforts whipped up feelings of anger and mistrust within the firm, both tech employees told Insider.
“People felt disgusted. They just felt as if they were being betrayed, and that this was a way for the company to just instill fear into employees,” said the employee who attended the “fire drill” meeting.
“At home, if I do my personal chores” during the workday, “we now feel like we can’t do that,” this person added. “We feel like we can’t take breaks while working, because we’re being monitored at every moment… [There is] fear that we need to be at our desk, in front of our computers all the time.”
The two tech employees insisted on speaking to Insider under the condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal from the bank because they were not authorized to discuss internal matters with reporters.
A secretive ‘fire drill’ meeting
As Insider has previously reported, some employees say they feel anxious and disconcerted by the firm’s monitoring of their work-related activities because they don’t know how the data is being used or why. Aside from boilerplate language in the JPMorgan intranet informing employees that their activities on company systems may be monitored for legal or compliance reasons, staffers said the bank has yet to be clear with them over how far the tracking goes, or what end it ultimately serves.
Some current and former employees have also told Insider that their managers had referenced the data in performance reviews or other meetings, suggesting it could be used as a gauge of performance.
Rather than soften its stance or move to become more transparent with staffers, the bank appears to be growing even more secretive about its tracking efforts, both technology staffers said.
“They have been extremely hush hush about it,” said the second of the two people. “Every WADU access request is getting mulled over like 20 times because they are really limiting what people are seeing,” this person added, “which in all reality is making it worse on them, because now it really looks like they’re trying to hide something.”
The first tech staffer said that the “fire drill” meeting took place shortly after Insider’s late May investigation into WADU. A group of fewer than 10 people including executives in operations and technology functions convened at the virtual gathering to discuss next steps, the person said.
The emergency meeting’s objective was to find ways to “lock down” knowledge of the system from those who didn’t need access to it, so as to prevent additional employees from sharing unauthorized information with journalists, the person said. During the meeting, people in attendance — most of whom were based in New York or Texas — displayed a “pretty serious” tone given the gravity of the situation, and identified Insider’s reporting as driving the sudden need to limit visibility into the system by revoking some staffers’ accounts, according to the person.
Now it really looks like they’re trying to hide something.
“They were going back over their loose ends,” the staffer said, recalling that the executives decided to “start certifying access” for users to determine who could have their access pulled. “They had to assign someone to go in and make sure who has access to reporting and, out of this list of folks, who no longer needs access to this database.”
Insider is withholding the names of the individuals who are said to have attended the meeting, at the staffer’s request.
About two weeks after that meeting, the employee received an email asking whether they still required access to WADU. The deadline to respond to that email was in late June. Insider reviewed the email, which asked recipients to answer a series of questions along the lines of:
- Did recipients require access to WADU’s data going forward?
- For what purpose did recipients use the data?
- Did recipients share the data or reports obtained through WADU with their team or other colleagues throughout the organization?
- Did the recipient require continual approval to receive data through WADU from a “senior leader”?
- Did the recipient log a formal request to continue receiving data through WADU?
The employee did not know how many other accounts held by non-managerial staffers might have seen their access to WADU revoked, or how many people beneath the senior level of management had access to begin with.
Tamping down on hybrid-work envy
For workers who are deemed eligible to partake in it, JPMorgan’s official hybrid work policy requires that staffers spend at least three days per week in the office.
But both technology workers said that, following Insider’s series of reports depicting the bank’s strict expectations for employee attendance, they had privately received verbal assurances from their bosses that they could come in two days per week, instead of the stated three. Other tech workers have received similar overtures from their managers in recent weeks, the two employees added.
Managers have made a concerted effort to only discuss the new guidance verbally, intentionally avoiding putting it in writing, because the firm is keen to stop additional written memorandums about its internal policy updates — particularly those pertaining to returning to the office — from leaking to reporters, the people said. The bank is fearful that other JPMorgan employees who have not been granted the two-day-per-week perk could feel envious or angry upon reading about the heightened flexibility extended to tech workers, the people added.
One such leak resulted in a story Insider published in late April about an email memo sent by Drew Cukor, a top artificial intelligence and machine learning executive at JPMorgan, who told members of his teams in writing that they would be permitted to come into work just two days per week, rather than three, going forward.
Cukor sent the email announcing the deviation from the company’s official hybrid-work parameters following an earlier report Insider published in April that originally revealed how the bank keeps track of its employees’ comings and goings at the office by counting their ID badge swipes. Cukor’s email pointed to internal pushback from employees as a reason for his softening stance.
Even within the WADU system, some tech employees’ calendars still appear to show that they are expected to come into the office three days per week, in spite of these assurances from their bosses that two days will be satisfactory, according to a review of the second tech staffer’s calendar. This tech worker also oversees a small team of direct reports, and was told by a higher-ranking manager to refrain from putting anything in writing about the new two-day-per-week expectation for those staffers as well.
Maybe when they lose talent here is when they may realize that what they’re doing is wrong.
In a recent hybrid town hall in June, which employees attended both virtually and in person, some tech personnel who work on payments functions in the Chase division were told that they could come in as few as six days per month — which constitutes a major break from the bank’s official hybrid rules — according to the first technology worker who also sat in on the “fire drill” meeting in late May.
“As we have said all along, hybrid work schedules vary by business, job function, and individual managers,” Fusco, the JPMorgan spokesperson, told Insider via email.
But this tech employee described feeling disheartened that mounting scrutiny about JPMorgan Chase’s workplace monitoring has yet to dissuade executives from pushing ahead with their data collection.
“They’re not stopping,” this person said. “Maybe when they lose talent here is when they may realize that what they’re doing is wrong. Because, at the end of the day, if they’re going to lose talent, the bank is not going to succeed. Hopefully that will help them realize. But, if that doesn’t work, then I’m not sure what will.”
Are you an employee at JPMorgan Chase? How do you feel about the bank’s ongoing surveillance of employees’ activities? Contact this reporter. Reed Alexander can be reached via email at email@example.com, or SMS/the encrypted app Signal at (561) 247-5758.
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