Can Workers Meaningfully Consent to Workplace Wellbeing Technologies?

Shreya Chowdhary, Anna Kawakami, Mary L. Gray, Jina Suh, Alexandra Olteanu, Koustuv Saha

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


Sensing technologies deployed in the workplace can unobtrusively collect detailed data about individual activities and group interactions that are otherwise difficult to capture. A hopeful application of these technologies is that they can help businesses and workers optimize productivity and wellbeing. However, given the inherent and structural power dynamics in the workplace, the prevalent approach of accepting tacit compliance to monitor work activities rather than seeking workers' meaningful consent raises privacy and ethical concerns. This paper unpacks challenges workers face when consenting to workplace wellbeing technologies. Using a hypothetical case to prompt reflection among six multi-stakeholder focus groups involving 15 participants, we explored participants' expectations and capacity to consent to these technologies. We sketched possible interventions that could better support meaningful consent to workplace wellbeing technologies, by drawing on critical computing and feminist scholarship - which reframes consent from a purely individual choice to a structural condition experienced at the individual level that needs to be freely given, reversible, informed, enthusiastic, and specific (FRIES). The focus groups revealed how workers are vulnerable to "meaningless"consent - as they may be subject to power dynamics that minimize their ability to withhold consent and may thus experience an erosion of autonomy in their workplace, also undermining the value of data gathered in the name of "wellbeing."To meaningfully consent, participants wanted changes to how the technology works and is being used, as well as to the policies and practices surrounding the technology. Our mapping of what prevents workers from meaningfully consenting to workplace wellbeing technologies (challenges) and what they require to do so (interventions) illustrates how the lack of meaningful consent is a structural problem requiring socio-technical solutions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 6th ACM Conference on Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency, FAccT 2023
PublisherAssociation for Computing Machinery
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9781450372527
StatePublished - Jun 12 2023
Event6th ACM Conference on Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency, FAccT 2023 - Chicago, United States
Duration: Jun 12 2023Jun 15 2023

Publication series

NameACM International Conference Proceeding Series


Conference6th ACM Conference on Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency, FAccT 2023
Country/TerritoryUnited States


  • data governance
  • ethics
  • power
  • privacy
  • sensing
  • workplace

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition
  • Software


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