Home Opinion Walking the Fine Line Between Safety and Privacy

Walking the Fine Line Between Safety and Privacy

by Brian Sims
Helen Down

Helen Down

Whether we use it for navigation purposes when heading to business meetings or for checking-in at our favourite restaurant, GPS has become a big part of our everyday lives, writes Helen Down. Ten years ago, carrying around a GPS receiver in your pocket would be unimaginable, but today many of us use GPS daily via our smart phones.

All that said, it’s one thing choosing to share your location with your social network, or finding directions on a map, but what about when it comes to sharing your exact off-site location with your employer?

There are an estimated six million lone workers in the UK, with more and more employers using GPS tracking apps to monitor their safety. Those lone workers range from sales people driving between appointments to engineers working on remote sites. Lone worker safety apps, which display employee locations on a map and allow staff to discreetly signal for help if needed, are increasing in popularity due to the prolific use of smart phones and tablets. For my part, I know that I never go anywhere without my smart phone and today’s employers realise that many of their employees are of exactly the same mindset.

While this rise in app popularity is undoubtedly a positive move for employee safeguarding, using such GPS-powered apps to monitor employees’ whereabouts and movements understandably raises important questions around the core subject of privacy.

Big Brother is watching?

There’s no doubt that there could be a privacy issue when it comes to mobile phone tracking. While most apps will ask permission to access your location through GPS, what many users don’t know is that sometimes your location is continuously being tracked by your device regardless of whether this information is being shared with other users. All it takes is forgetting to untick a box or agreeing to a long list of unread notifications when downloading an app.

In late 2014, there was a flurry of news stories surrounding the location settings on iPhones, which were described as ‘a divorce lawyer’s dream’. Buried within the privacy settings is a ‘Frequent Locations’ tab which records where you’ve been, including dates and times. This is switched on unless you turn it off manually. I tried it and, sure enough, my every move was documented and it was very disconcerting.

To check this on your own iPhone go to Settings, and select the Privacy tab. Then, click Location Services at the top, which will probably say ‘On’. From here, scroll down and click System Services. Finally, select Frequent Locations, which is the last option. At the bottom, you’ll see your history, including the locations and how many visits made.

Apple insists that the company only uses the data to improve map functionality and that the data doesn’t leave the phone. However, this does highlight how important it is to be transparent in your use of location tracking, and how uncomfortable not doing so can make people feel. This is particularly important in the workplace where the technology is provided by you, and not chosen by the employee.

Consent and transparency 

Using GPS tracking in order to monitor employee safety is a positive move on the employer’s part, and usually done out of a desire to meet the latter’s Duty of Care to employees while at the same time adhering to Health and Safety legislation.  However, from an employee’s point of view, they may find the introduction of an app that shares their location with their employer intrusive and also harbour concerns about any ulterior motives for the tracking.

Therefore, as an employer, if you decide to use a lone worker safety app it’s crucial to follow these three golden rules to ensure a smooth and positive roll out:

*Consent: The employee should always be in control of when they’re monitored. Choose an app that only tracks and reports on employee location when it’s activated by the employee and stops as soon as an employee chooses. Therefore, the employee consents to being monitored each time. This is usually done by the use of PINs and passwords to turn an app on and off by the employee and no-one else

*Transparency: Regularly communicate to all members of staff why you use the app. Make it clear it’s a safety device and not a means to monitor productivity or ‘spy’ on your employees. Share the positives of being monitored. Your staff have peace of mind when working alone that they can signal for help at any time and that they’ll be found and assisted on a swift basis

*Privacy: All location data collected by dint of using the app should be kept securely by the employer in line with current data protection, Human Rights and employment legislation 

Helen Down is Director of StaySafe


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