CCTV Company Uses ‘Virtual Supervisors’ to Spy On and Yell at Convenience Store Workers

CCTV Company Uses ‘Virtual Supervisors’ to Spy On and Yell at Convenience Store Workers
Photo: Dan Kitwood, Getty Images

A security company is offering businesses a very unique surveillance service: the voice of God. Well, not really. Actually, it’s just some contractor from India but the net effect — a booming, omniscient in-store narrator — is the same.

Live Eye Surveillance, which is based in Seattle, sells its security systems to major chains like Shell and 7-Eleven, including a fairly unique feature. As Motherboard recently pointed out, Live Eye’s team hires remote contractors, called “virtual supervisors,” who not only monitor everything going on in the store through security cameras but can also phone in to its speaker system and thus interact with people in the store. It’s just another example of the growing trend of employee monitoring products that have exploded since Covid took millions of workers remote — albeit a pretty absurd one.

In some cases, Live Eye’s tool is used for security purposes. One particular example is displayed in surveillance footage from a recent attempted robbery. Two masked men enter a 7-Eleven, one toting what looks like an assault rifle. As they attempt to rob the cashier, the Live Eye operator’s disembodied voice kicks into gear: “This is Live Eye security. This is to inform you that you are under CCTV surveillance and we have called 911.” The bandits subsequently scurry out the door, bewildered by the apparent convenience store deity that has chastised them.

While the Live Eye voice gimmick seems to have worked in that scenario, critics have pointed out that not only is it not really that useful, it actually seems fairly dangerous.

“That’s how someone is going to get killed,” an anonymous field consultant for 7-Eleven told Motherboard, explaining why he disapproved of the product. “You don’t startle someone with an assault rifle. That violates 7-Eleven policy. There’s a reason why the silent alarm is silent.”

On top of this, what Live Eye’s product is mostly designed to do is surveil employees and regulate how they work. In another video posted on the company’s website, it shows “the Voice” interrogating a convenience store employee whose friend has stopped by to visit. Basically, the tool can be used as an ever-present manager, tasked with literally looking over the shoulder of employees at all times.

In addition to how creepy and annoying this is, it’s fundamentally invasive in a way that passive surveillance systems are not. It’s like something from Futurama — dystopian and terrible but also absurd and cartoonish. Even though the culture of surveillance in America and around the world is already at peak capacity, companies and the government seem to be taking it as a challenge to get more and more creative with how they can invade your privacy.