The Secret Shopper by Willie Osterweil has a bit too much jarring Marxist jargon for me to feel in tune with it, but it makes some provocative points about the institution of the “Secret Shopper” — the folks hired by management to go to stores and pretend to be customers and then report on the quality of the service.
Stripped of (some of) the cant, the conclusion is that the mystery shoppers are tools of conformity:
Mystery shoppers are miniature thought police, affective pinkertons, mercenary management to whom real management outsources the legwork of everyday psychic control. They are sent in to break the avenues of refusal available to workers, to enforce the arbitrary standards dreamed up by marketers, bureaucrats, and MBAs that so deaden the experience of everyday life under late capitalism. … All just for a little extra cash for the weekend.
Producing identification with the bosses; smashing labor; and making solidarity difficult through contract labor, precarity, and remote working are key features of neoliberal workplace organization. But central to this vision, too, is workplace surveillance. … Heightened workplace surveillance helps build a workplace where no time is wasted, where all effort is put directly into the production of the bosses’ product. But it transforms more than just the bottom line.
The threat of the ever-present spy, the fear that the woman who forgot her ID in the car but swears she’s 18 is actually a scab employed by your boss, means you trust no one, expecting them all to be against you, out to catch you breaking management’s rules, which you now enforce with paranoiac efficiency. Surveillance, ultimately, isn’t about stopping crime. It’s about making police.
I think that even if you are OK with Taylorized service jobs, this critique ties somehow to the importance of privacy in other realms — or the need for concern about the upcoming Dossier Society — more generally. Data is a way to watch you too.