The Covid-19 tracking app has been available for a few weeks. It is now on millions of smartphones. Its effectiveness is a constant topic of many discussions. The media discuss it controversially. Companies and app developers have also jumped on the bandwagon. They have so-called micro-tracing solutions in development, i.e. tracing apps or tools for companies. They are supposed to help to avoid infection-critical contacts and trace them. Because the impact of this pandemic on the economy is so serious that companies have to protect themselves, according to app developers. Is this becoming the new normal: borderless surveillance while you work?
MICRO-TRACING LEADS TO SURVEILLANCE
Kinexon offers a kind of wristband. This warns if the distance falls below 1.5 metres. It can also record information about the proximity, duration and intensity of contact and forward it to a central server. According to Kinexon, however, the identification would be in compliance with data protection regulations.
At PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC), the micro-tracing concept even includes remote working, if companies want it. Behind this is the tracking of working at home or on the road. The main thing is to be able to track possible infections in the company. Therefore, it is necessary to know with which colleagues this person has had close contact in the past few days. The app only switches to active when an employee enters a company building. Then the distance to colleagues is monitored via Bluetooth and the company’s WLAN is used for communication. When leaving the office, the app switches off.
But PWC emphasises that valuable insights into the nature of collaboration are gained in this way. For example: Where and in which situations is there a risk of infection? Is it better to design the room differently or to change how the company is organized? Such evaluations would even be useful during flu epidemics.
TRANSPARENCY OR ABSOLUTE CONTROL?
Let’s look at this a little more fundamentally. When a company hires you as an employee, it buys your work performance and competence. It pays for both with benefits such as the monthly salary. Of course, you don’t work continuously. You get something to drink, have to go to the toilet, talk to the works council, go to the canteen. While working, you organise your tasks. You also take part in meetings and projects that are important for the fulfilment of your tasks. Or you support the projects of others and show your competence. You don’t do this largely independently. It is essential that you achieve the defined goals and successfully complete projects at the agreed time.
With a tracker or a micro-tracing app, these processes become transparent. Working methods, toilet and kitchen routines, social behaviour. All of this can be displayed in minute detail, integrated into statistics and compared with other employees.
But if something can be abused, then it will be abused at some point. For example, the data obtained can be used to construct an ideal-type employee for the company. This then serves as a benchmark for all the others. If someone deviates from this, the human resources department or the supervisor has a more serious discussion with him or her.
A DISTANCE TRACKER WOULD BE MORE HARMLESS
To introduce this to a German company, major hurdles would have to be overcome: Data protection, works council, employees who are against it, legal disputes. In any case, the internal effort to communicate would be huge and extremely difficult. In fact, the culture of a company could collapse as a result.
The risks of infection can actually be minimised quite easily. Namely with a tracker that gives an audible alarm when the distance not respected, and by wearing a mask in closed or confined spaces. A room that is too small, unfortunate machine handling procedures, seating that is too tight in the canteen: the distance tracker attracts your attention. A quick glance at the construction site next door shows how necessary this would be. There is rarely any talk of distance.
Such systems cannot be introduced into a company with mere instructions. Especially since that would lead to an encroachment on the employees’ personal rights. But without a micro-tracing app, it would be very time-consuming to manually document the physical presence of employees. This is the argument of the providers. But is this really what companies are expected to do? Is there a mandate from the Federal Health Office for this? In fact, they would only have to ensure that the distance is maintained and that the masks are worn. Everything else is not protection, but surveillance.