Monday, June 29, 2015

Geolocation Privacy in the Workplace: A Student's Perspective


Please find below an excellent blog post by Conor Barry, a student intern at the United States Geospatial Intelligence Founcation (USGIF), giving his perspective on a lawsuit that was recently filed concerning geolocation privacy in the workplace. Important reading for employers and location based service providers alike.

As a college student with a year left in school, there are a number of concerns that I, as a soon-to-be graduate, have about the working world. Some of those concerns are financial, like how much money I will be making and how much I will have to spend on rent and other living expenses? Some other concerns might be cultural, like where will I live or what kind of differences will I have to adjust to now that I am no longer a student, how will my responsibilities change? These are the questions that I expect to be asking myself in a year’s time. Something I do not expect to be asking myself is, “How, or is, my employer tracking my whereabouts with my company-issued smartphone?”

This may seem like an odd question, or a question that should not have to be asked by persons in the workforce. Unfortunately, this question has come about, most notably, in a recent court case between Myrna Arias and her former employer Intermex Wire Transfer. In early May 2014, Arias was fired from her job at Intermex for uninstalling the Xora StreetSmart app, from her smartphone because of the location tracking service the app provides to her employer. Arias’ suit against Intermex claims invasion of privacy, retaliation, unfair business practices, and other allegations, seeking damages upwards of $500,000, and claims the monitoring app was activated on weekends and other personal time (Kravets 2015)

Upon her hiring, Arias’ supervisors at Intermex requested she install Xora on her work phone. Arias was terminated for removing the app from her company issued phone because she believed the services the app provides to employers was invading her privacy. Arias claims she was not opposed to the app for work purposes, but rejected the idea that the phone, and subsequently the app itself, must be on during personal time.

According to Xora’s website, the Xora app provides the ability, “to drill down into the map and see specifically what is happening at each stop. Review how long a mobile worker has been there, the address, what actions they are taking and the status of the mobile app.” This app can provide employers with a vast amount of data about their employees, their actions, their tendencies, and their personal preferences. In summary, the app can provide an employer with an enormous amount of personal data about its employees.

I did not entirely understand the enormity of this court case until I read another article about this ordeal where some concerns about privacy were highlighted. In a Washington Post article, Andrea Peterson dives into the serious implications of location services being overextended on employees. The author outlines some important points shared by Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union:

“Employers have legitimate reasons for monitoring their workers, but all too often we see that kind of tracking spilling over into the private parts of their lives…When you know everywhere someone’s been, you know a lot about their lives – you know not only where they work and live, but who their friends are, who their lovers are, what doctors they might visit – the list just goes on and on.”

This was a very frightening realization. The idea that one’s employer can use smartphones, the devices that connect us to the rest of the world, negatively against a person is unnerving. This is even more concerning because in many instances, employers are providing company-issued cell phones to employees. If these phones are coming equipped with apps like Xora, or if employers are requiring these apps be installed on company cell phones, where can the line be drawn to best protect the privacy of users?


As a student who will be entering the workforce in a year’s time, I would have to side with Arias. I do not believe that there is any reason for my employer to demand I keep a company-issued phone activated and on my person at all times, whether I am working or not. The tracking abilities apps and phones now provide can be manipulated and used in ways that can be an invasion of privacy to individuals. I would not be open to the idea of future employers tracking my whereabouts on personal time, but the outcome of this court case will provide insight regarding the limitations of employers to use location services to monitor employees. 

1 comment:

Shawn Deny said...

Something I do not expect to be asking myself is, “How, or is, my employer tracking my whereabouts with my company-issued smartphone?”

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