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Your employer may know you’re reading this

Kenny Malone Nov 14, 2013

Your employer may know you’re reading this

Kenny Malone Nov 14, 2013

Ask your boss if she likes this story. With the right software, she could be monitoring every key stroke and screen shot of your company-issued smartphone or computer.

“I had a finance manager who just wasn’t getting the job done,” says Celeste O’Keefe, who runs DANCEL Multimedia in Biloxi, Miss. “And I was wondering, ‘what is going on?’ So we went to look. She was playing games all day.”

DANCEL Multimedia creates videos and graphics to help attorneys sway juries. O’Keefe says she warns her employees that their work computers come with a powerful monitoring software installed.

O’Keefe has investigated several lapses in employee productivity using the technology. In one case, she discovered an associate working on a masters thesis on company time. Another worker was spending roughly two hours a day on social media.

Both were warned and then let go.

“I mean, people know cameras are in stores and people still try to steal,” says O’Keefe. “And associates at work were doing the same thing. They know [the software] is there.”

The last few years have been a parade of eerie, big data revelations. Facebook, Google and the Snowden/NSA leak have catalyzed a national conversation on privacy that extends to the workplace.

“I assure you,” says labor and employment attorney Dale Morgado, “employers and employees have different expectations of privacy.”

Morgado works on both sides of this issue, representing both employers and employees. He says there’s not a lot of case law in this area. But generally speaking, it’s much better to let employees know what you might be watching.

“You want to think about what the employee might think,” says Morgado. “Because without that clear line that you can just draw, you may be getting a lawsuit even though you ultimately win. And in America we have the: Pay your own attorney rule. Which means that you’re still going to lose.”

The software used by Celeste O’Keefe comes from a company called SpectorSoft, which advises all their customers to disclose the fact that their product is being used, like O’Keefe did.

“We actually provide sample acceptable use policies,” says Mike Tierney, vice president of business development and operations. 

About 36,000 companies, governments and educational institutions worldwide employers use SpectorSoft in some way — from insider threat protection to productivity monitoring.

Though SpectorSoft is focused on work computers, other companies let employers track everything from smartphones to big-rigs.

In 2007, the Ryder company launched their RydeSmart technology. “It’s a little box and it basically sits inside the cab of the truck,” says Dennis Cooke, president of Ryder’s 4.5- billion-dollar Global Fleet Management Solutions division.

RydeSmart tracks location, speed and fuel efficiency. It can even read and report back on “check engine” lights. Cooke points to a specific example, when Ryder got a “fault code” about a particular truck’s overheating engine. 

“We called the truck off the road,” says Cooke, “and it turned out that the grill was caked with mud. And the driver said: ‘How did you guys know that? This is great!’”

RydeSmart costs extra for Ryder customers. The company maintains, leases and rents about 200,000 trucks. Around 22,000 of those currently have RydeSmart installed — five of which sit in Doral, Fla. 

That’s where the Intermark Food trucks start their daily deliveries. María Elena Ibañez owns Intermark, which produces and distributes a food brand called “El Latino.” 

She explains that in the grocery business, distributors have a relatively narrow window of time to deliver their food each morning. She used to lose thousands of dollars from her drivers missing deadlines.

So Ibañez started tracking the trucks, and learned her drivers were messing up the routes.

“You have to have the good timing because of traffic,” says Ibañez. “They leave my office at 4:30 in the morning. If they don’t–”

Ibañez stopped cold and looked at her computer. “See another one,” she says.

A RydeSmart alert window pops up on her screen: Hard Brake

“The same guy,” she says. It was the third sudden stop alert from truck number 157. “This guy’s falling asleep probably. I’m going to call him.”

Ibañez picks up her iPhone and dials.

“Hola, Rolando… You have a problem,” she says in Spanish, “you’re pushing down too hard and too suddenly on the brakes.”

Ibañez says RydeSmart has never led to a driver firing at Intermark, just a lot of teachable moments about speeding, beating traffic and getting enough sleep. When you ask your deliverymen to get up at 4:30 every morning, she says you have a moral obligation to make sure they don’t kill themselves or anyone else.

The call between Ibañez and Rolando lasted barely a minute. “He says there’s something wrong with the truck,” explains Ibañez, “that he didn’t have a hard stop. And he says, ‘No, the truck is probably sending the wrong signal’.”

Ibañez has heard that song before; she’s not buying it. Still, she’s confident she made her point.

“They know I know.”

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