GM Shares Dystopian Safety Tech, Ford Says Remote Work May Continue Into 2021

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
gm shares dystopian safety tech ford says remote work may continue into 2021

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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2 of 17 comments
  • Jarred Fitzgerald Jarred Fitzgerald on Aug 14, 2020

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

  • Jeff S Jeff S on Aug 15, 2020

    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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