The ‘mouse jiggler’ gadgets helping WFH employees slack off

Mouse jigglers can allow work from home employees time to escape their desks. (Getty)
Mouse jigglers can allow work from home employees time to escape their desks. (Getty) (Westend61 via Getty Images)

The mouse jiggler is a gadget built for the ‘working from home’ (WFH) era – an undetectable gizmo that makes workers appear to be ‘there’ even when they are not.

Mouse jigglers have boomed post-pandemic, with more than 2,000 sold in the past month via Amazon in the UK, most boasting that they are ‘undetectable’. The gadgets are built to generate random mouse movements which keep productivity software such as Microsoft Teams from registering a user as ‘away’.

This means that WFH workers can leave their machines and still be shown as a ‘green light’ in software such as Teams. Known as employee monitoring software, apps such as Teams can allow bosses to keep an eye on whether employees are active – with mouse movement detection just one of the tools in the arsenal of 'bossware’.

How do mouse jigglers work?

Cunning employees are using apps which make the mouse appear to move or going one better and using a physical ‘mouse jiggler’.

Physical mouse jigglers have the benefit of not being connected to the user’s PC, so even keen-eyed IT people can’t spot that one is being used.

The tech varies but in several common ones, you place a mouse on top of a turntable to move the cursor at regular intervals.

How might your boss be ‘watching’ you?

But do mouse jigglers really safeguard employees against nosy bosses? Yahoo News spoke to workplace expert Ben Stocken, CEO of team performance experts West Peak.

Mouse movers can be effective in showing users are present, but bossware apps can often detect much more than mouse movement, Stocken says.

Stocken says: “Bossware is becoming increasingly widespread across companies both big and small since the pandemic, and while some uses can be innocuous, it can quickly feel like Big Brother Is watching.

“The amount of data being tracked by bossware – also known as employee monitoring software – is huge, and certain types can reach James Bond levels of spying.

A popular 'mouse jiggler' sold on Amazon (Amazon)
A popular 'mouse jiggler' sold on Amazon (Amazon) ((Amazon))

“Many workers who use Microsoft Team or Google Workspace might be surprised to hear that the software contains presence monitoring tools that show whether an employee is online.

“Email monitoring and keystroke loggers can keep an eye on what you’ve been writing, so could spot if you’ve been sharing sensitive information, or just spending too much time on personal matters.

“Some employers use mouse activity monitors to check that staff are present at their desks – something that workers are evading by buying some of the hundreds of ‘mouse mover’ gadgets available online.

“More intrusive still are the bossware devices that use the computer’s microphone and camera to watch and listen to what an employee is doing and saying.

“Using a combination of these methods plus voice analysis allows some companies to even monitor an employee’s tone of voice. Can you imagine being fired because you weren’t enthusiastic enough on a client phone call early on a Monday morning?

What are the risks of bossware?

Employees who become aware they are being ‘watched’ are likely to become unhappy, and even leave the company, Stocken says.

It can be tempting for bosses to use more and more intrusive functions, but in the end this can ruin company culture, Stocken warns.

He said, "The danger with bossware is the risk of mission creep. What starts as a sensible use of monitoring to protect the company from unauthorised software can quickly expand to include methods that intrude on staff privacy.

“The critical question when it comes to using bossware is whether the company is playing offence or defence. Do you want to use it to enhance your culture by understanding sentiment through language analysis modelling, or is it simply to snoop and catch people out?

“One leak to your team that you’re using it to see what terrible things employees are saying about you in a closed team’s channel and your culture is shot.”