Bosses play Big Brother by cell phone
Boston Herald | August 17 2005
By Jay Fitzgerald
So you think you've pulled a fast one by hitting the links instead of attending a boring afternoon business conference.
Think again. Big Brother Boss may literally be watching your every move, via the cell phone in your pocket or car.
Corporations are increasingly using global positioning satellite technology, embedded in cell phone software, to pinpoint within yards where an employee is located – whether it's at a scheduled office-park sales meeting or on the seventh fairway of Franklin Park Golf Course.
Companies hail the new technology as an efficient way to keep track of and dispatch far-flung employees who work in the field.
``When you can see on a screen where employees are, you can more easily direct them to the next job,'' said Paul Abrams, a spokesman for Roto-Rooter Services Co., which is now using GPS-enabled cell phones to keep tabs on where its technicians are located.
Roto-Rooter plans to introduce its GPS cell phone system to its Boston operations next month.
GPS tracking was controversial in Massachusetts last year when the state insisted snowplow drivers use the technology so managers could keep tabs on them. Trucking and delivery companies have also used GPS to track the whereabouts of vehicles, cargo and employees.
But now plumbers, visiting nurses, insurance agents, salesmen, cab drivers and others who are often on the road are also starting to use increasingly ubiquitous and less expensive GPS-enabled cell phones issued by employers.
While companies say their intent is not to invade employee privacy, Barry Steinhardt of the American Civil Liberties Union said it's only a matter of time before there are reports of widespread abuse. ``It allows employees to be tracked off the job,'' he said.
The proliferation of GPS cell phones is being pushed in general by the federal government, which is mandating that wireless carriers embed the technology in 95 percent of all cell phones by the end of this year, so 911 calls can be traced during emergencies.
But Mary Foltz, director of location and mobility at Sprint Nextel, said there are highly sophisticated safeguards in place to protect the privacy of cell phone users.