Upwork’s Work Diary Comes under Fire

Upwork’s work diary has come under intense criticism from Buzzfeed reporter, Caroline O'Donovan, who wrote a long and exhaustive report criticizing the purpose of this freelancing tool.

Upwork diary is an online time tracking feature, that  records and then automatically invoices a person for time worked, enabling clients to quickly verify that the freelancer’s invoice only includes hours properly billed to the client’s project. This tool is optional, and not turned on automatically for all projects.

This tool has however been criticized as removing freedom and flexibility from the work of freelancing. It is indicted of doing this due to the fact that it saves screenshots, measuring the frequency of a freelancer’s clicks and keystrokes, and even sometimes taking webcam photos of the workers. These actions have been described as both creepy and unnerving, taking away a freelancer’s sense of freedom  and also taking away from Upwork’s founding mission which is to provide a platform where “workers would enjoy freedom and flexibility to find jobs online,”.

The diary works by monitoring workers in 10 minute intervals, counting mouse movements and keystrokes. If the software does not notice any of these movements in a ten minute interval, the freelancer is marked inactive. This raises questions about whether this is an accurate way to measure a freelancer’s activity,  for example, someone who stops typing to think about the way forward on a project, would be considered inactive.

The screenshot function also takes shots at roughly ten minutes intervals, timed in such a way that the freelancer cannot figure out exactly when to expect the screenshot. However freelancers are given the liberty of deleting screenshots if the software captures personal information, but that would result in losing the ten minutes captured in that particular shot.

Gray, of Microsoft Research, quoted in the Buzzfeed articlesaid the reason freelancers allow Upwork to track them in such detail is because “they don’t fully understand how much data can be collected on them or how that information could be used against them for future work opportunities.”

Even though the downsides of the work diary seems to be the focus, it is important to consider what Upwork really intended when they introduced this time tracking tool. According to the Upwork website, the work diary was intended to provide payment protection. “Upwork is the only freelancing website that offers payment protection. The time tracker provides the proof of work underpinning this protection. It helps ensure freelancers are paid for their work and their clients only pay for authorized work done. Easier timekeeping. Freelancers manually start the clock when they’re actively working on a project. Freelancers also label each time segment with a memo so their clients know what work they billed.”

A couple of freelancers who seem to have used the Upwork time tracker seem to seem to appreciate the tool despite criticisms.

“This may sound contrary to the article but the Upwork Tracker keeps me focused and in "the zone." It's like a virtual leash which disciplines me to chunk my time into rest and work intervals.” Says Wendell Auman, an Upwork freelancer commenting on the buzz feed critic.