Anyone who works in the media, particularly Gizmodo Media Group, will tell you that the messaging application Slack is the best thing about working in this precarious industry. It’s great! A wonderful way to share news and tweets, make light of ongoing developments in politics and media with tasteful and amusing jokes, and confer with your colleagues on the best way to report the damn news. And, at CNN, it’s now a way for your bosses to monitor your conversations.
A CNN source provided Splinter with a screenshot of a message that appeared on the Turner Slack this morning, at 10:30 a.m. Eastern time, telling users that their messages could now be read and exported by their Team Owner. The message came from “slackbot,” a friendly robot that sends you reminders, helps you clear out your channels, and tells you your boss is watching your every keystroke:
As you can see, this change in policy “allows Team Owners to export communication history, including the content of private group and direct messages, subject to your team’s message retention and deletion policy.”
According to multiple sources, employees were not warned that this change would be made. The sources say that at least six thousand people are in the Turner Slack, which includes all employees of CNN.
According to a subsequent message posted in the Turner Slack announcements room:
There have been several inquiries about the recent slackbot alert and what it means. Please note that this was an automated message that Slack generated regarding a routine compliance function that was turned on. The company has certain legal preservation obligations which required this feature to be active.
Slack changed its privacy policies, and added this feature to its premium service tier, in 2014, as they tried to make inroads with large firms, like financial institutions, that have onerous message retention rules.
It goes without saying that the idea of your corporate bosses reading your private messages is troubling. Some people use private channels and direct messages to talk to their colleagues about topics that might not be ideal for discussion in the bigger public channels. Perhaps you’re making dinner plans with those coworkers who have made the leap from valued work colleague to a trusted friend. Perhaps you’re out of tampons, and you need to ask your coworker if she has any. At a journalistic organization, you might even discuss confidential news tips or sources with your editors and coworkers.
Or you might beg your coworkers for favors in a way that would be desperately embarrassing if anyone else read it.
At any organization where Slack is the primary mode of communication with your colleagues, it might also be true that Slack is the only, or at least the primary, place where workers can privately discuss bad behavior from their bosses, including sexual harassment or discrimination. Whatever the intent behind the policy change, it is a reminder that the corporate workplace is a miniature tyranny, and employers should always expect to be under surveillance.
Anyway, all media employees should unionize right now, and they should do it outside their companies’ corporate Slacks. Bosses are shit. Thanks.
CNN representatives have not yet responded to our requests for comment.