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Track time by periodic screenshots analyzed with recognition software!

Personal privacy advocates (and all lawyers who work in-house) will abhor this idea. I’m not an advocate either, but the idea has First Amendment rights.

According to the Economist, May 15, 2010 at 69, a company that provides remote workers – telecommuters by computer – has “developed tools that let employers check on work being done out of their sight.” The company, oDesk, includes software “that takes a screenshot of a worker’s desktop every hour, combining them to form a ‘work diary.’”

Images of stored screenshots conjured up the idea of a law department that randomly took them and searched them with software that identifies what client the work on the screen covered. Precision would not be necessary with enough random shots and plausible algorithms for determining the likely client group being served. Documents and email would be relatively easy to match to a specific client group; other screen shots would be ambiguous. With enough samples of screenshots and sophisticated recognition software, there would be no need for time-tracking by the attorneys.

If that were not enough invasiveness, other oDesk software “measures overall time spent using a keyboard and mouse.” Keystroke data might loosely supplement the identification process. If certain words were associated with certain clients, the links would be clearer. This is an idea at once entrepreneurial, ingenious, effective, and egregious – but my guess is that it will not happen until global warming cools (See my post of Feb. 9, 2009: business opportunities discussed on this blog with 12 references and one metapost.).

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One response to “Track time by periodic screenshots analyzed with recognition software!”

  1. Brett Owens says:

    Hi Rees – our legal time tracking software, Chrometa, actually almost works this way.
    Except rather than pulling screen shots, we actually make sense of the users action – so we determine what program they are in, what their specific action is (ie. what email, what document name, etc) – and track their focus changing.
    This is a bit more robust than just pulling screen shots. Most of our users are attorneys, and they love it. Even very diligent time keepers run into time tracking challenges, as you know – it’s just real tough to capture everything yourself while constantly multi-tasking.
    Also here’s a recent legal time keeping habit survey we conducted – you may like this as well – attorneys we surveyed told us on average they work 3 hours to bill 2…and also they spend 2+ monotonous hours per week trying to reconcile their time. Here’s the link: