Digital technology offers a world of possibility primarily defined by unabridged convenience, digital connection, instant gratification, enhanced personalization, and seamless transitions between the online and offline experience. However, within the digital world also exists an underbelly of privacy-related anxiety, as consumers around the world continuously question whether the exchange of personal data is too steep a price to pay for convenience or innovation.
Are we sacrificing too much of our personal information in exchange for better marketing, tools, and services? This line of questioning has dominated public debates regarding the potential implications of data-driven technology on personal privacy.
In a 2020 Financial Post article, author James McLeod described his horror when he discovered that Tim Hortons had been tracking his every move via their mobile ordering app. “I never would have consciously volunteered my home address, work location, and vacation plans to Tim Hortons, but the company found out anyway,” he wrote. “I haven’t been singled out for special treatment. For more than a year, the coffee chain has been tracking customers' movements in exacting detail through its mobile ordering app. I’ve spent months sifting through my own data, and it’s staggering how much the company knows about me. From my home to my office to a Blue Jays game at Rogers Centre, even all the way to Morocco, where I traveled on vacation last June, the company’s app silently logged my coordinates and relayed them back to its corporate servers.” McLeod's complaints were confirmed by an investigation by federal and provincial privacy watchdogs, who found the mobile ordering app had violated the law by collecting vast amounts of location information from customers.
Of course, this isn’t the only example of a large-scale, tech-driven privacy breach. Data privacy concerns have become an increasingly mainstream issue in recent years, and the COVID-19 pandemic heightened those concerns with the rise of contact-tracing apps. In a 2020 MIT Technology Review article, the authors highlighted the recent surge of apps that promise to detect COVID-19 exposure but provide little transparency regarding their data collection practices. “As the covid-19 pandemic rages, technologists everywhere have been rushing to build apps, services, and systems for contact tracing,” read the article. “Despite the avalanche of services, however, we know very little about them or how they could affect society. How many people will download and use them, and how widely used do they have to be to succeed? What data will they collect, and who is it shared with? How will that information be used in the future? Are there policies in place to prevent abuse?”
Reading these cautionary tales as a technology developer myself, I couldn’t help but apply this same critical lens to the hospitality industry – specifically, the use of hotel panic buttons. This technology exists with the sole purpose of tracking employees to keep them safe, but do these solutions ever break users' trust by monitoring their movements beyond their jobs' demands (and associated risks)?
Potential Panic Surrounding Hotel Panic Buttons
The case for hospitality staff safety devices (panic buttons) is easy to make. Hotel staff are, after all, subjected to demanding and often isolated work environments that are, unfortunately, prone to incidents of injury, assault, or abuse. Due to this, hotels have been early adopters of panic buttons to better protect their staff as they perform duties throughout a large hotel, often without the immediate support of other staff members nearby.
With the help of a device that can relay real-time location coordinates to management or an on-property support team, hotel staff can easily (and discreetly) call for help in the event of an accident or incident. Now, perhaps more than ever, these devices play an integral role in the workplace culture at any hotel committed to providing staff with a safe and supported experience. However, these devices must do what they were created to do – that is, relay location information only in the event of an emergency – without compromising staff privacy.
Unfortunately, in 2017, a GPS-enabled panic button issued to about 400 members of staff within Colombia’s government came under fire for faulty security infrastructure. A report from the Associated Press detailed an independent security audit that uncovered “technical flaws that could let hostile parties disable them, eavesdrop on conversations and track users’ movements.” According to the report, there was no evidence to indicate that the vulnerabilities found within the technology had been exploited; however, it was still enough for security experts to raise the alarm. “This is negligent in the extreme,” said Eva Galperin, director of cybersecurity at the non-profit Electronic Frontier Foundation, at the time.
Specifically, the audit revealed that some features of the panic buttons could be “turned against the user,” with the most serious vulnerability letting anyone with the device’s phone number remotely disable it and surreptitiously take control. “Simple text messages can reset it or activate the microphone remotely, turning it into a listening post,” the audit found. The report also revealed that because the device could be remotely wiped, it could also be reconfigured from afar.
While this specific set of security issues doesn’t apply to all panic buttons, stories like these serve as an important reminder for companies currently using or contemplating purchasing panic button devices to double-check security features before purchase. After all, panic buttons' intent is to reinforce staff safety, not infringe upon it unintentionally. Hotel brands need to double down on staff safety and the protection of staff privacy.
With this in mind, TraknProtect’s best-in-class staff safety platform tracks the real-time position of all employees in the facility and triggers rules around them. This ensures that the location of employees can be hidden and only shared in emergencies when staff members request help. Employee safety at the touch of a button – without compromise. To learn more, click here.
About TraknProtect | TraknProtect is a real-time location technology provider enabling hotels to harness the power of location data and integrate it into their safety and operations systems. TraknProtect provides enhanced safety devices (ESDs) for hotel employees through activation of a safety button integrated solution alerting security personnel to the location of employees in need of assistance. The platform provides additional access to real-time locations and data about hotel inventory, room service trays, and vendor activity on the property. The TraknProtect software platform is also enabling hotels to enhance guest satisfaction, increase employee efficiency, and improve employee safety by using TraknProtect data analytics to save significant capital costs and make smarter inventory purchasing decisions and improved management of outside vendors. For more information, please visit www.traknprotect.com and follow us on LinkedIn.