Every Move You Make, WeWork Will Be Watching You
By Ellen Huet

A spate of acquisitions has given the workspace company tools to track and optimize office space.  WeWork is acquiring businesses, such as conference room tracking software maker Teem, and developing tools to help companies optimize their office space.Before it’s here, it’s on the Bloomberg Terminal. 

Of the company swag worn by WeWork employees, one T-shirt slogan says a lot about where the shared workspace business is headed: “bldgs=data.”

It’s hardly a surprise that WeWork Cos. wants to make money collecting and analyzing information about how people move and operate within offices. In the past year it’s pushed hard on that front, acquiring Teem, a maker of software that captures conference room bookings. In February, WeWork bought Euclid, a service that tracks smartphones in retail spaces. WeWork also is testing several types of sensors, including thermal and motion detectors and Bluetooth check-ins. The tools help analyze how workers intend to use a space vs. how they actually use it, according to Shiva Rajaraman, WeWork’s chief product officer. It’s like “Google Analytics for space,” he likes to say.

Collected data are anonymized and secure, WeWork’s Rajaraman says, but privacy advocates say they’re concerned about the consequences. “The first intended use of a data set is not the only way a data set ends up being used,” says Michelle Miller, co-founder of worker organization platform Coworker.org and co-author of a recent report on how data mining is migrating to the workplace. Also, anonymous data streams could still be traced to a person who spends long stretches of time in particular locations, says Jacob Snow, a technology and civil rights attorney for the ACLU. “The devil is in the details,” he says. “It’s important to think through how information can be combined with other information.”

Rajaraman says the efforts are a way to explore how spaces are used at a mass scale, adding, “We want to defend privacy as well.” Teem’s room-booking data captures who organizes meetings and who gets invited. “Once you have this, you start to develop a graph of all the connections between people,” he says. He wants to eliminate regularly scheduled “zombie meetings” that no one attends. Teem’s information is even more powerful when used with other data: “If we know someone’s seating chart, we can start to optimize which rooms are available based on how long it takes you to get to the room,” Rajaraman says.

He’s also excited about Euclid’s technology, which tracks individual phones through a MAC address, a unique identifier used to locate available Wi-Fi networks. Euclid, founded in 2010, has confronted concerns about privacy. Some shops, such as Philz Coffee Inc., the San Francisco coffee house chain, stopped using the service after customers complained it was invasive. Rajaraman says WeWork wants to make it easy for people to opt out of Euclid’s tracking while also retaining the data’s benefits.