Is your boss tracking your location from your smartphone?

If you own a smartphone, there's a chance you're being tracked by your boss, as more companies reportedly use GPS technology to monitor the whereabouts of their employees -- even when they're off the clock. That was the case for one worker who turned off the GPS in her phone and got fired. Now, she's taking her ex-employers to court. Brian Fung, a reporter for The Washington Post, joins Hari Sreenivasan from Washington, D.C., to discuss.

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    If you have got a company smartphone, there's a chance you're being tracked by your bosses.

    More and more companies are reportedly using GPS technology to track employees, even when they're off the clock.

    One worker who turned off the GPS in her phone got fired. Now she's taking her ex-employers to court.

    Washington Post reporter Brian Fung joins me now with more on this from Washington, D.C.

    You're one of many reporters that is following this story.

    First of all, get some — get some of us up to speed. What happened? What is the company? What did they do? Why is she suing?

  • BRIAN FUNG, The Washington Post:

    So, the company involved is Intermex. It's a company that handles wire transfer services.

    And the woman involved, her name is Myrna Arias. And she's suing her former employer because her employer installed a type of software on her phone that allegedly will track her even when she's not on the clock.

    So, the employee involved here, Arias, said, this is an invasion of privacy, and then she allegedly deleted the app from her phone, at which point Intermex decided to fire her.

    So, that's where we stand now. And it's at this point a matter for the courts to decide who's — who's right here.


    So, the idea of tracking isn't necessarily new. I mean, GPS has been around for a long time. Smartphones and apps have been around for a long time.

    Why is this kind of piercing through our kind of interest bubble now?


    Well, you're absolutely right. We have had this technology for a long time. Employers have long tracked people through GPS in their cars.

    But now that we have smartphones everywhere, and they are so ubiquitous and everyone has one, it is a lot easier to track employees through their cell phones than it is through their vehicles.

    And so what's happening here is a case of just sort of expansion of tracking technology. And I think some people are reacting against that.


    OK. There is also this balance, I guess, between legitimate-use cases vs. — vs. civil rights abuses, right?

    I mean, if I'm going to a specific kind of doctor and you know the location of that during my lunchtime or on the weekends, that might be a violation of my privacy.

    But I'm assuming a UPS or FedEx employee, they would say, look, I just want to make sure they're making their deliveries as fast as they can.


    Certainly. And that's one reason why a lot of employers have raced to adopt this technology, in part to make sure that their employees are working responsibly and reliably, but also safely.

    One of the use cases that Intermex talks about in its marketing materials is, you know, making sure that employees take their mandatory work breaks, in accordance with certain state laws.

    So, you know, this is absolutely one reason why — why companies would be eager to use this kind of technology.

    On the other hand, it also comes with a lot of pitfalls, particularly when companies are tracking their employees when they're not working.

    As you said, you know, there's a lot of concern about the kind of information you might be able to glean from someone's behavior just by looking at their location traffic.


    So, is there a time anymore that we are actually off the clock, not just because we have these phones around that are kind of our digital leashes, but e-mail finds us everywhere we are?


    Well, I think one way to look at this is to look to the example of Europe, where a lot of companies have actually instituted hard bans on e-mail after a certain time period or after the workday is over.

    And in the United States, of course, e-mail can find you no matter where you are or what time of day it is. It's just a different culture.

    But, you know, there's certainly a lot of consternation about, you know, being available all the time, particularly, you know, as more and more people start adopting smartphones and being on social media 24/7.


    All right, Brian Fung, a reporter from The Washington Post, thanks so much for joining us.


    My pleasure.

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