September 24, 2004 4:00 AM PDT

Big boss is watching

Cell phones are giving employers new ways to check up on employees in the field--and raising fresh workplace privacy concerns as a result.

On the leading edge of the trend is Nextel Communications. The wireless provider began selling its Mobile Locator service last November, giving bosses an easy way to find employees who carry GPS-equipped cell phones.

Earlier this month, mobile tracking firm Xora showed off the latest version of its Nextel GPS (global positioning system) phone software. The company says 1,600 corporate customers have signed up for its services, including "geofences" technology that sets off an alarm at the office when field workers go to preprogrammed off-limits sites, such as a bar or a park.

News.context

What's new:
GPS-enabled cell phones can track users, and employers are eager to keep their mobile workers on an electronic leash.

Bottom line:
Bosses want the service, many consumers want the service, and the technology is becoming cheaper and more widely available. Get used to the eye in the sky.

More stories on GPS

"There's no electro shock--yet," Xora CEO Sanjay Shirole said.

Employee-tracking devices are gaining steam thanks to ever-more-accurate GPS technology and a U.S. mandate requiring wireless companies to develop ways for emergency workers to find the physical location of people who dial 911 on a cell phone.

Developed in the 1970s by the U.S. military, GPS uses signals from low orbit satellites to triangulate the position of a ground-based receiver. GPS trackers were once an expensive luxury, but costs have plunged with the expansion of cellular-phone services.

Now new enhanced 911 (E911) emergency regulations governing wireless carriers promise to unleash profitable new GPS services, analysts say. To comply with the rules, carriers have begun running more accurate GPS technology capable of supporting a range of commercial services that go beyond emergency location.

"This high-accuracy infrastructure is setting the stage for high-accuracy location-based services," said a spokesman for TruePosition, a cell phone location service provider.

Other GPS cell phone service providers include TeleNav and uLocate.

Tracking the market
In a sign of growing market for such services, GPS chip designer SiRF Technology, which provides GPS technology for handset maker Motorola, has seen its revenue grow from $15 million in 2001 to $30.4 million in 2002 to $73.1 million last year. The company went public in April.

Chip designer Qualcomm is also seeing demand for its GPS One technology, having signed up 15 carriers worldwide and around 20 handset manufacturers. As of April, about 120 cell phone models contained Qualcomm-based GPS units. Along with providing chips, Qualcomm sells server software for improving GPS speed and accuracy.

Xora said hundreds of companies, including transportation giant U.S. Foodservice, have signed up for its GPS TimeTrack technology to monitor employee timesheets, jobs and locations using GPS-enabled Nextel phones.

GPS TimeTrack is a Java program that sits on a cell phone, and periodically requests latitude and longitude information from the phone's GPS system. At this point, Nextel is the only company that makes a GPS-enabled phone that works with the software, although the company expects the application to be supported by other phone makers.

"There's no electro shock--yet."
--Sanjay Shirole,
CEO of Xora

Xora's product is taking off quickly. It was only July when the company said it signed its 1,000th GPS TimeTrack customer. "It's just incredible momentum," said Ananth Rani, the company's vice president of products and services. "We're adding about 200 a month."

As GPS technology proliferates, there's growing awareness among cell phone owners that the devices can track them. Nearly half of all wireless phone users and 55 percent of all wireless Internet users knew of some location-based services, according to a survey by In-Stat/MDR. More importantly to U.S. cell phone carriers, more than a third of those surveyed said they'd be willing to pay a monthly fee for location services.

Nevertheless, the surveillance capabilities of these phones are raising privacy concerns.

Every move you make, the boss is watching you
One of the earliest examples of how an employer can walk this fine line is in Chicago, where about 500 city employees now carry geo-tracking phones, mainly as a tool to increase their productivity. The phones were distributed to employees only after their unions won several concessions, including allowing workers to shut down geo-tracking features during lunch time and after hours.

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Another showdown over the technology erupted last year in Massachussetts, when the state highway department proposed issuing GPS-phones to snowplow drivers to achieve greater accountability from 2,200 independent contractors used to clear the roads. Hundreds of drivers threatened to sit out the first major snowfall of the year in protest, but eventually agreed to use the phones on a trial basis.

A San Diego-based consumer advocacy group, the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, advises employers to only consider using the phones to achieve a legitimate business purpose, and not check up on potential loafers.

"There are good business reasons for using it," a representative for the group said. "But it must be coupled with a very robust privacy policy."

News.com's Michael Kanellos and Ed Frauenheim contributed to this report.

18 comments

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Stalking made easy
I love these things, put one under the bumper of
my ex-wife and another on that hot chick down the hall. Now I know where ever they go.
I can track them with a minimal amount of minutes on the contract and they never use the time.
I have two daughters and will have to inspect them on a regular basis for other stalker devices.
Posted by swwg69 (48 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Heartbeat 911
Subject: Heartbeat 911 as an enhancement to "big boss" services

In response to the big brother / big boss services described in your article, Heartbeat 911 is a method that allows a consistent view on either side of the military to DHS/Commercial equation  common symbology set as the data is replicated or sent via (instant) messaging. The TCP/IP heartbeat includes a timer that can be set in terms of milliseconds (useful for targeting) or seconds (useful in secret service esq. applications). If nothing changes, the military will see a screen showing individual platforms and capabilities while the fire, police etc will see geometric shapes sans the military units that they should be cooperating with = not GWOT friendly (Global War on Terror) which is the Army/DODs stated priority. The Heartbeat interacts with RFID and PKI as well as providing International Engineering Consortium described standard ID services also (see www.sawconcepts.com).
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
That's not how they advertise
Here in Houston there is a giant billboard that says something like, "Slackers beware" in advertising the GPS phones and walkie talkies. They might say in the article they don't recommend this technology for sniffing out loafers but their actions say something different.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
There goes our privacy -- for what?
I see the need for 911 to be able to locate a person
who calls, no one else has the right to know where I am. THe technology isn't needed anyway. The phone company knows where you are by what tower you're connecting to. Otherwise how would they know if you're in your home area.
Posted by kakphoto (18 comments )
Reply Link Flag
cameras
Someday, if we make it, there will be cameras on every street corner, every block. Every move will be tracked and watched. Terrorism and the patriot act have given us the reason to go ahead. But then what of the poor, their numbers shall increase to be the mass so we'll have to turn a blind eye to what we're watching. We don't know what we're doing to ourselves daily. All I can say is God save us.
Posted by ihavegotnewsocks (12 comments )
Reply Link Flag
overtime
Just think of how well this ties into removing overtime pay. I can see a world where the only way to live is to work 13 hours a day 7 days a week, that or be poor. But I guess this is what we want.
Posted by ihavegotnewsocks (12 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Kidnapper Catcher
Bosses tracking goof-offs seems like a waste of time and money but business executves travelling to places like Colombia, Brazil or even Argentina, should pack one of these devices in their suitcases. Police or embassy officials could then find them when kidnapped.
Posted by pbollini (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Unless
Unless the cell phone is one of the first things pawned/sold to pay for the gas needed to get their kidnapping victim out someplace quiet and secret.
Posted by Fray9 (547 comments )
Link Flag
Navtrak GPS Tracking
If a business is truly looking to improve mobile worker performance, a cell-phone tracking app. is a poor place to start. for starters:

1. If the phone is turned off, you can't track anything.
2. If the phone is out of site of a satellite (in the glove compartment, under the seat), it won't transmit, so you can't track the owner.
3. GPS apps don't run while other phone programs are running, such as simply talking on the phone.

GPS systems that are hard-wired in a vehicle, such as Navtrak, are the only way to truly monitor workforce productivity. After all, the service tech or delivery driver can't do much without the vehicle!

For more info, check out www.navtrak.net and watch the free GPS tracking demo online.

Good luck!

Rod
Posted by Navtrak (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
GPS Tracking Devices
I love the thought of using a mobile phone for a personal GPS
tracking device or even tethered to a vehicle. When I say
tethered I'm referring to a human having a GPS tracking phone
while driving in the vehicle.

Yet the problem I've seen with mobile phones is that there are
all sorts of issues with GPS:

- Battery life
- Time to first fix and overall GPS signal strength
- The GPS tracking software needs to continuously after a reboot
or crash, which is tough when Java is a second class citizen on
the device
- Educating the end user on using the software (if necessary)

It's only a matter of time before GPS is ubiquitous on mobile
phones, but there are still quite a few hurdles to overcome. At
Ublip (www.ublip.com) we're currently focused on tracking
remote assets, which may be a portable generator, container, or
pump. In this scenario a mobile phone doesn't work since the
device needs to be rugged and operational in extreme
temperatures. As a whole, a Ublip GPS tracking device is nothing
more than the guts of a cell phone that's tightly packaged into a
field-tested box.

These are just some things to consider and it's very exciting to
see the evolution of GPS tracking devices and mobile phones.
Posted by dennisbaldwin (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Interesting Article
Looking forward to more related articles
Posted by jrlizarraga (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
I Found some at this website they're cool little devices check them out http://www.bluewatersecurityprofessionals.com/
Posted by rgreen687 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
My boss started gps tracking on us outside sales guys with gps phones. The company said they'd monitor from 8am to 5pm, Mon-Fri. However, after wrongfully receiving a speeding ticket, I requested that days log, to prove I wasn't speeding. But the log showed that I was being tracked until 8pm. As part of my job, I have to call the parent company overseas very often in the evenings, when they are open, therefore, I don't turn my phone off. When I found out about this, I complained to my boss, that it's none of his business what personal activities, which church I go to, which political party activities I attend on my own time. He said he'd get rid of it, and asked me to forgive and forget. However, 6 months later, apparently the upper managers are now again requiring it. I fired back at them about their past illegal use and abuse, and said I can't trust them anymore with the system. The managers said that the gps monitoring company screwed up, and that the system reset automatically, and automatically started tracking me until 8pm, and on the weekends. I called the gps company, and they said this is impossible. When I told this to the upper manager, he acknowledged that he had viewed my activities in the evening, but only to confirm that I returned home safley. He also said I have nothing to complain about, because I never received any affect from the company, or that the company never made any complaints to me about my personal time activities. I tend to disagree. I think I have been affected, but can't prove it. At any rate, is it not illegal what my company did? Does "reasonable expectation of privacy" apply? Your thoughts please.
Posted by CincyStal (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
GPS tracking for a business need not be Big Brother or intrusive. My company have a product called Vismo (http://www.vismo.com) which sites on a BlackBerry and provides GPS locations, cell tower location back-up and a panic alarm feature. Typically it's issued to employees that travel the world, often to high risk areas and they have full knowledge that the tracking is taking place. Indeed, this provides them with peace of mind. Looking at the recent events in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and recently Japan, this sort of product makes is much easier for the security teams of corporate bodies to perform their Duty of Care to their employees. We recently saw the first prosecution under the Corporate Manslaughter Act in the UK. Services like this help companies demonstrate that they are actively protecting the safety of employees as the travel abroad.
Posted by Darwin70 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I think live tracking is a bit overkill - displaying an employees location on a interactive floor plan is another story: http://www.floorplanmapper.com
Posted by Mapper99 (73 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I'm afraid that the trend in business gear toward more control and more tracking of workers, especially field workers. This may not be such an issues if workers are rewarded for playing the game and is the rules are clearly mentioned at start...and that everyone agree with them. Antoine (www.data-field.com)
Posted by Datafieldapp (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
There was a similar topic about employee tracking devices and this is what the majority of the people thought about them: (www.tellwut.com/survey_solve/solve/email/e2582604126cbe8b5b2fbbfb7d552810/tid/6c325f7e59444c81eeb1be279834db8b/id/30933)
Posted by tellwut (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I think that being tracked this closely sounds a little too stressful. This may decrease motivation in some workplaces and have employees resenting the employer. I would be worried of the psychological affects it may have on employees who are now afraid to express themselves, especially on a break where they do not need to discuss work... younger generations are shown to be more productive by multitasking, using social media, browsing, etc. who wants to go to work and not be themselves?! track robots...
Posted by matthewbatt (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
 

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