Unethical Uses of Information Systems on Employees: IKEA Trial

This blog will offer a joint perspective from both Ciarán and Cathal. We felt we could collaborate on this post since it concerns both our areas of interest concerning our blog topic. Cathal has researched a lot about firms hiring policies and their employees and Ciarán has focussed broadly on the unethical uses of information systems for companies. Therefore, we’ve decided to cover the IKEA spying allegations that are currently on trial.

IKEA, the Scandinavian furniture manufacturer, is currently on trial in France for an alleged ‘spying operation’ set up by the French Division. They’re currently being investigated for crimes between 2009–2012, but prosecutors believe it started a decade earlier.

This case presents an interesting example of Information Systems being used in the workplace both from an employment standpoint but also in data protection, as myself and Ciarán have covered separately. Whilst it appears as though IKEA has been far more Orwellian in its approach when compared to a standard Applicant Tracking System and background check, it is still an example of a system being used on a business-wide scale. IKEA’s sinister practice is alleged to have been spearheaded by IKEA France’s then director of risk management, Jean-Francois Paris. The system involved store managers providing Paris with names of employees of interest, that Paris would then pass on to private eyes. This often resulted in annual spying bills well north of €500k.

Employees were spied on for different reasons, with a notable example concerning a “model employee turned protestor”, where Paris was concerned as to the reason for the change and feared there may be “a risk of eco-terrorism”. Another example involved Paris wondering how an employee could afford to drive a brand new BMW convertible. 4 Police Officers are also accused of handing over confidential information to the division

The system was remarkably standardised despite its incredibly unethical and seedy nature. Names would come in, be handed to the highest bidding 3rd party private eye, and the results would be stored for later use (Guardian, 2021). Having studied IS in employment over the last few weeks my eyes have truly been opened to the Big Brother gaze firms can hold over employees from when they apply to when they leave, and this IKEA example, though 10 years old came as no real surprise.

Whilst this example is clearly illegal never mind unethical (IKEA faces a fine of up to €3.75m and those involved face a potential sentence of up to 10 years) examples of data gathering on employees can be seen in almost every firm. A 2017 CareerBuilder survey revealed that over 60% of employers screen candidates through social media networking sites before making decisions, often post-interview (Irish Times, 2017). This has never been easier to do as well given the meteoric rise of LinkedIn. In most instances today, a first name and an alma mater is all anyone needs to build a complete profile on a prospective candidate.

As previously mentioned, this issue really highlights the fact that the issue concerning unethical uses of Information Systems in Businesses is endemic. IKEA’s reputation has taken a bit of a hit, but it’ll recover easily. Empty promises of ‘revamping’ hiring policy won’t do much to change this systematic issue. In order to wake up order companies to abusive and intrusive policies, a real example must be made of this company by the courts. Petty fines will make no difference to a multinational of this kind. IKEA France faces a fine of up to €3.75million, pocket change to a multinational their size. Charges could be prison sentences of up to 10 years and fines of up to €750k. (The Guardian, 2021). Figurative heads on spikes are needed to ensure this message is sent to other companies who operate in grey areas when it comes to employees privacy.

It’s also worth noting that this IKEA scandal happened over a decade ago. How many more of these scandals have slipped through the net since? As usual with most information systems, further regulation is needed to keep these companies honest and integral. It really shows how privacy has really been taken away by a lot of information systems. A fundamental human right to privacy is one that must be taken seriously. I really am concerned by behaviour like this. Spying on one’s employees is a real breach of trust, and to do it to the extent that IKEA did is really appalling. I hope that the results of this trial will act as a beacon to warn companies that practices like this cannot and will not be tolerated.

It was great experience for myself and Cathal to write this blog, we both offered great insights from a data privacy and hiring standpoint.

References

McClean, P., 2021. EU regulators clamp down on employer social media searches. [online] The Irish Times. Available at:

<https://www.irishtimes.com/business/work/eu-regulators-clamp-down-on-employer-social-media-searches-1.3153372> [Accessed 6 April 2021].

RTE news, 2021. IKEA France on trial for spying on staff. [online] RTE.ie. Available at:

<https://www.rte.ie/news/world/2021/0322/1205352-ikea-lawsuit/> [Accessed 6 April 2021].

The Guardian, 2021. Ikea goes on trial in France accused of spying on staff. [online] the Guardian. Available at:

<https://www.theguardian.com/business/2021/mar/22/ikea-goes-on-trial-in-france-accused-of-spying-on-staff> [Accessed 6 April 2021].

A Group of TCD College students investigating how information systems have changed the business decision making landscape