Telus launches in-vehicle GPS in wake of Privacy Commish concerns

Telus released its new vehicle-tracking GPS Solutions for Business suite on Thursday — the same day that Privacy Commissioner of Canada Jennifer Stoddart released the results of her study on the negative ramifications of such technology.

The GPS Solutions for Business suite has four elements, according to Telus’s associate principal of vertical strategy, Dan Anzarut. The first is the handset navigation tool, which is the first of its kind in Canada and is the only part of the suite to be making its actual debut. It allows subscribers to access real-time, audible, turn-by-turn directions on their handset.

Telus works with a suite of application provider partners to provide the latter three components, all of which offer employers GPS-based vehicle tracking, something that over the last few years Telus had only offered on a case-by-case basis.

Handset tracking allows employers to locate their employees in real-time on a map, and also monitor speed and idling time. The feature also allows the employer to practice “geofencing,” which maps out an area that a particular employee stays in, allowing for straying to indicate that something is awry.

Handset tracking with dispatch allows the employer to send out electronic dispatches to the employee’s handset, while the push-to-talk function — courtesy of Telus’ exclusive Mike network — turns the handset into a walkie-talkie that will work anywhere in North America.

The last part of the suite, in-vehicle modem-based tracking, contains the elements most troubling to Stoddart. Along with the ability to monitor the vehicle’s temperature and oil and tire pressure, employers can check in on their employees’ vehicle speed, idle time, hard breaking, and seatbelt usage, in addition to knowing where they are at all times.

“The suite offers a reduction in idle time, more safety for the driver and the inventory,” said Anzarut. “There is enhanced customer service — for instance, if one driver has to serve many clients, they can create an expectation about what they can get to — and there is increased productivity: if you have ten drivers, you don’t want them all working in the West End, or to send someone to the east end from the west end if you can find out if you have someone there already.”

This type of employee surveillance inspired several telecommunications company workers to submit to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC) a complaint about how their employers’ use of GPS technology to track their daily movements felt like a violation of their privacy rights.

Discussing the results of the study of this case presented at a Ryerson University-hosted workplace privacy seminar and published online, Stoddart wrote, “This is an important issue for employers and employees across Canada. We’re seeing more and more organizations installing GPS in their cars and trucks and it’s unclear whether they are adequately addressing privacy issues.”

She said that the workers were concerned that the GPS was monitoring their performance and that the information could be used to punish them. While the OPC acknowledges the utility of improving customer service and tracking stolen vehicles, and, according to the press release, that GPS use “may be acceptable in certain situations, which are defined and communicated to employees beforehand,” a company “should not routinely use GPS to monitor its workforce.”

Anzarut countered, “This is not Big Brother. These clients work in an extremely competitive field, and issues of asset security are very important. Then there’s the high cost of fuel eating up the profits. GPS Solutions for Business is just a tool that will help companies — it’s a tool to manage their business, not control their employees.”

But, according to Stoddart, “Systematically using GPS to check up on workers and try and determine how well they’re doing their jobs would be going too far. Employers do not have carte blanche to use GPS to constantly monitor their workforce.”

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