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Your Employer May Well Know You’re Reading This

Julia Duba

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 smart phone or computer. Every single day. Every word you say.

“You can generate an alert that lets the HR director know that Rob is using completely off-color language in his communication with other employees,” said Mike Tierney, vice president of business development and operations at SpectorSoft. With built in triggers his company’s software “can accelerate the screenshot recordings so you can see exactly what Rob’s doing when he’s dropping f-bombs all around the company.”

The Vero Beach-based company got into the tracking game back in 1998. Now, roughly 36,000 companies, governments and educational institutions worldwide use SpectorSoft in some way -- from insider threat protection to productivity monitoring.

“I assure you, employers and employees have different expectations of privacy,” said Dale Morgado, a Miami-based labor and employment attorney.

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 -- SpectorSoft has boiler-plate language to help companies do just that.

Credit Kenny Malone / WLRN
Intermark driver Jorge Vareles starts the day.

  “You want to think about what the employee might think,” said 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.”

While companies like SpectorSoft are focused on work computers, other compannies 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,” said 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,” said 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 days 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.

Credit Kenny Malone / WLRN
Maria Elena Ibanez at her computer with a hard break alert.

  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,” said 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 said.

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

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

Ibañez picked up her iPhone and dialed.

“Hola, Rolando. ... You have a problem,” she said 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,” explained 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.”