By on August 13, 2020

General Motors said it plans to share some of the safety technology it developed as a countermeasure to the coronavirus pandemic this week. These include a thermal scanning kiosk that uses infrared imaging to take temperatures of people as they stream into facilities, as well as a touchless printer app designed to keep staff from repeatedly touching the control panel. However, it’s the third item, GM’s contact-tracing software, that’s the most novel and controversial.

Practically every company in the world is working on ways to better track people, and their efforts have only accelerated during the pandemic. The presumption here is that by knowing every person someone has come into contact with, you can effectively track the progress of a virus. Despite sounding terrifyingly dystopian just a few years earlier, the notion has become a favorite among tech giants  most of whom are working on their own version.

GM’s involves a wristband, integrated into iOS and Android devices, that keeps tabs on how close employees are to each other. The company has since added support for Bluetooth beacons.

“We believe our application advances the state of the art when it comes to mobile apps for contact tracing, which is the subject of massive software development efforts across multiple industries today,” Tony Bolton, GM’s chief information officer of Global Telecommunications and End-User Services, said in a release.

The automaker is likewise testing a mobile app that would “create a record for the employee, listing other users with whom he or she has been in contact.” General Motors claimed it could help medical staff reach individuals that had direct contact with another worker who tested positive for a virus. The app also constantly computes the physical distance between users and can send an alert to help encourage safe behavior. GM is planning a pilot to test the application soon.

Sounds like it might be useful in telling people they’ve been infected long before they’ve shown any symptoms. But we could also see this as a handy tool for union busting or general surveillance, as it effectively builds a constantly evolving database of every person you’ve spent any time around. While the company said privacy and security is its chief concern, so do social media companies that sell your data to the highest bidder. You don’t think all those telemarketers got your cellphone number by magic, do you?

Meanwhile, outgoing Ford CEO Jim Hackett said he’s in no hurry to see white-collar workers back at their desks. Thousands of Blue Oval employees have already returned to their posts and crowding the field runs the risk of spreading COVID-19. Having to pay for the operation of additional facilities also costs the automaker more money  though we can’t say if that was a contributing factor to any corporate decisions.

Ford pushed back return-to-work calls numerous times this year, and has basically given salaried employees permission to work from home until the end of 2020. Unless you’re essential in the actual assembly of product, few automakers want to see your face making a personal appearance at the office. And numerous companies have already hinted that the current conditions could extend into early 2021. According to Automotive News, Hackett feels similarly.

“It’s my bet it will be extended beyond that,” Jimmy told reporters earlier this week. “If you come this far to manage this and just say ‘Well I’m tired of this’ and change the profile and the risk, why did we do all the safety planning to begin with?”

“Bill [Ford] and I feel the company’s running really well right now the way we’re all working it,” he continued. “So we don’t want to prematurely get back.”
[Image:  Phil K/Shutterstock]
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17 Comments on “GM Shares Dystopian Safety Tech, Ford Says Remote Work May Continue Into 2021...”


  • avatar
    Old_WRX

    Oh, good, even less privacy. I know they have great excuses for it, but I’m just not buying it.

  • avatar
    SaulTigh

    My company announced today that work-from-home would last until Feb 2021. I knew there was no way they were going to have us back during cold and flu season this year.

  • avatar
    2manycars

    Their Big Brother device pairs with ios and android – so these companies are going to REQUIRE that employees carry a smartphone? Screw that! I don’t have a smartphone and I’m not going to get one. I say “Track this!” (Use a little imagination to guess what I’m pointing at.)

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      Typically anywhere I have worked if they require a smartphone they provide one or pay you an allowance to get one for work. I prefer the later but in this case I’d definitely want a separate device that I would only use at the office. Not a fan, but then again, I don’t use a dumb phone either.

    • 0 avatar
      Old_WRX

      I use a vintage dumb phone that makes phone calls and takes passable pictures so I can (hopefully) remember how to put things back together.

      My computer has no camera or microphone and runs Linux not Windows or Apples OS. The sad truth of it is that almost all users really have no way of knowing who is snooping what on their computer.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      I use a virtualized phone that can move from device to device. And not just traditional cell phone platforms. If I want, I can receive or place a phone call on the virtual device with the physical device it usually is associated with miles away. I can even do things like faking mac numbers. Everyone is so trusting with that data and they don’t realize it can be faked so easily. I haven’t had much time to play with this stuff recently, but at some point, I’m going to publicize how unreliable all of this data they think they’re gathering on us really is.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        If anyone is at a point in your network where your spoofed MAC matters, you have already lost.

        I just use and enjoy my modern stuff, but assume it is compromised and use it accordingly.

        Plenty of canned exploits out there for most every platform and OS. All you can do is patch regularly to take away the low hanging fruit and be careful with the business you conduct on them.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        You can fake stuff though, but there are certain bits of data that won’t lie. Life isn’t a Jason Borne move for the most part.

        Digital Forensics is fascinating, but I don’t know anyone that has done it for more than a few years…building cases against whatever child predator’s computer they are looking at this week burns them out pretty quick usually.

  • avatar
    Tele Vision

    My brother and I had a company 14 years ago. When getting Blackberries for the employees we were asked if we wanted Blackberry Enterprise Server, which was a free service offered to owners and administrators of corporate accounts. The salesman gleefully told us that we could read absolutely everything that was sent to or from our employee’s phones. We declined the B.E.S. part but, keep in mind, this was 14 years ago. In my current work situation I know that corporate surveillance has kept pace with the times. As such, I have a personal phone that has no ties with my work: I don’t forward emails or texts to my personal phone and have blocked all work numbers before they could even call. Good fences = good neighbours.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      I don’t care as much when the workplace is providing the device, but pretty much any system I conduct work on has a “Use of this device constitutes consent to monitoring” banner. You can’t really escape it in some fields.

      • 0 avatar
        Tele Vision

        @ Art Vandelay

        My personal phone doesn’t give me ‘estimated time to get home’ or ‘estimated time to get to work’ or ‘traffic issues’. My work phone does – and I can’t turn the location option off. As such, I have two phones and don’t take my work phone anywhere but to work and back. I’ve mentioned this to several clots at my job but they think that saving a few bucks a month paying for a personal phone is better than having every last detail of their lives made available to our employer.

        • 0 avatar
          Art Vandelay

          Yeah I’d do the same. If I’ve ever been issued a phone, unless it is to test something you don’t want on a personal phone, it is so they can reach you any time. If they dont need to reach someone at any time, why issue a phone?

          That sort of BS would make me want a pager though if we are going old school. If you need to reach me, I’ll call you back lol.

  • avatar
    Jarred Fitzgerald

    This is awful. I don’t need anyone violating my right to privacy. This is just too much.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    All I need to work remotely is my Employer issued HP laptop which I can receive phone calls, Skype, Outlook, and do many other things remotely.

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