Is Fleet Management an invasion of employee privacy?

, posted: 16-Sep-2008 08:54

An interesting story originating from the Sydney Morning Herald last week, and doing the rounds in New Zealand, says that ‘Privacy Experts’ and Unions are saying that vehicle tracking systems used by companies are an invasion of staff privacy.

It goes on to talk about a former Telstra employee who committed suicide shortly after having a vehicle tracking system attached to his company vehicle. The employee was being treated for depression and the story infers that his suicide was in part a consequence of Fleet Management equipment being installed in his vehicle.

Over the last decade I have been in various ways involved with Vehicle and Personal Tracking technology and only once have I come accross a company that wanted it to be able to check up on the honesty of their staff.

There is no question that some companies have found a sudden increase in profitability and decrease in vehicle costs since they put FM systems in place, but monitoring staff integrity was not the reason the system went in. This particular company wanted to know which vehicles were close to clients that needed urgent service so that they could allocate the nearest vehicle to provide a quality reponsive service.

A few years ago I met the CEO of a rapid response plumbing firm. They guaranteed a minimum response time for people who needed a plumber in an emergancy. He was able to manage this as a consequence of using Navman Wireless technology to locate the nearest vehicle to the job.

They also wanted to compare time based service contracts to the actual time the vehicle was parked at the client site. They wanted to know if they had under or overquoted because there was sometimes a gap between the sales person’s enthusiasm to win a contract and the reality of the job being done.

What did happen was that a number of staff people whom they had suspected of taking liberties with the vehicle on the job and after hours, left the company within a month or so of their own volition. They were under no pressure, in fact their employer said to them "We don't care what happened in the past, this is not a big brother situation, however we do expect a fair day's work for a fair day's pay". In fact the CIO of this company absolutely hates and deplores the concept of big brother and would fight tooth and nail to stop the system being used to monitor the staff to see if they were skyving off. It was never about that. They did know that a couple of the people were abusing their employer's trust, but nothing was ever said to them about it and basically what happened was that those people knew they couldn't continue in the way they were used to and resigned.

I am against (and it may well be illegal) tracking people and their vehicles without their knowledge. The only people able to do that should be the Police and even then, only with a legal warrant produced through the courts.

On the other hand there are many potential benefits. In the courier and freight industry, Fleet Management means that people can easily apply track and trace to good being picked up and delivered without needing additional staff to place calls to drivers.

In the security industry it means that security guards on patrol can confirm the safety and location of their staff and also provide clear evidence to clients that their premises have been visited when they said they were. It can also mean that these people can be backed up in an emergancy. This technology is used internationally to track and protect the safety of VIP’s such as politicians in government vehicles.

Another area that is becoming popular is using this technology to keep track of a personal vehicle’s location. For example, when Dad lends the car to his son or daughter who is just popping down to the shops or a mate’s place, who could be boy racers. There have been a number of occassions where a stolen vehicle has been recovered with the thief still inside, such as the case earlier this year. Sometimes a car is irreplacable such as a classic, or sports car. Insurance money can’t always allow someone to recover the time spent in restoring or bulding a vehicle. This technology can also be used to secure trailer water craft and motorcycles which are often easy targets for criminals.

Another area which is becoming very popular and which I have written about a number of times before is tracking elderly people. With the Baby Boomers living longer and being more mobile, there is a growing population of elderly people, some of whom are sprightly of mind, but less of body and at risk of breaking hips or other body parts, while others are sound in body but suffering onset of Alzheimers Disease or other forms of dementia and likely to wander off and not remember where they live. Whether it is the Retirement Village or Rest Home, or their children, this common problem becomes much easier to manage if you can send a text message to the device they are carrying and receive one back with the nearest street address to their current location.

I think tracking is a great thing for unions to use to help them shore up membership and totally endorse them helping people out when it comes to unethical practice on behalf of the company they work for. However, in most cases FM (Fleet Management) is about providing better service to a company’s clients, being able to stay competitive in a time of heavy traffic, high cost of petrol and consumers who expect cheaper prices.

Other related posts:
Have You Tried The New Barfoot and Thompson iPad Real Estate App?
8 Ways to Grow Your Business with GPS
Consumption 2.0 and Mobility

Comment by nzsouthernman, on 16-Sep-2008 21:33

I have to say, as much as the thought of big brother appalls me, if you are given a company vehicle to drive around in, what the company installs into it is their business.  Most outfits won't mind too much if an employee pops into the supermarket/dairy/pharmacy between customer visits as long as they've not wasting too much time, and don't do it too often.If you're a contractor (plumber, sparky, builder whatever) it's fair on the business owner to expect their employees to not take their company vehicle to do cash jobs on the side.  If FM keeps the employees from taking company vehicles to do private jobs, that's not a bad thing. Cashies are a fairly common thing - and any person worth their salt will take their own vehicle to do something like that anyway - there's less chance of being noticed.Then there's the IRD thing - it's been noted that IRD FBT inspectors hang around boat ramps on the weekends looking for signwritten vehicles dipping their boats in the water snf then penalising the company for FBT  - FM should be an encouragement for all members of a company to not take their vehicles into places where they can get into trouble with the IRD.If you're driving a company vehicle using their petrol card, at least you're not wearing out you own personal vehicle and spending your own hard earned $$$ in gas.FWIW - any company that pays a 'Car Allowance' to staff so that they use their own personal vehicles to do their job has *NO* right to use any kind of tracking on a staffer's vehicle. Even if the company pays their fuel costs too. It's either company provided vehicle + tracking, or no tracking at all.That's my $.02 worth.That's my $.02 worth.

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Luigi Cappel
New Zealand

Helping people getting their message to potential customers with blogs and social media.
Futurist and start up founder.
Passionate consultant about all things to do with Social, Location, Augmented Reality and Mobile.
Member of Auckland ICT Cluster
Chair of Computing and IT Industry Advisory Committee at National Technology Institute
Founding member and past president of the New Zealand Wireless Forum.
Past Vice President NZ Sales & Marketing Institute.