Employee Security Badges - Necessary Tools or Invasions of Privacy?
By Jeff Revoy
Chief Operations Officer & Co-Founder
Employee security badges and apps are important and helpful. Here’s why. Almost daily, headlines of security breaches at big tech, financial, and, even, hotel companies make front page news. Over the past two years, our personal security has been called into question. We learned that Facebook compromised user data with its third-party apps and that hacks on Equifax and Marriott compromised the data of 147.7 million and 500 million people, respectively. At the same time, both hackers and employers are benefiting from health and fitness data tracked through apps and wearables.
Naturally, people are wary of putting themselves at risk by disclosing personal information on new platforms. Individuals are using VPNs on personal devices and two-factor authentication for app and website logins. So why would someone want to give their employer location access on their phone or use a badge equipped with similar location-tracking sensors? More than ever, business’s security badges and apps are called into question. But we’re here to explain why this access is important and how businesses can keep their employees safe.
For decades, employees have used security badges to enter and leave office buildings, operate elevators, and access restricted floors or rooms. What’s changed is the technology these powerful badges hold—or if a badge is even needed. To an employee, access is one of the most obvious functions of a security badge. However, the information that badge provides to either security or facilities managers may be its most important function. Even in their most low-tech form, badges contains a unique key assigned to an individual. So, in the case of an emergency, it’s easy to determine which employees are in the building and who’s already signed out. In these emergencies, even the most primitive form of location tracking is welcome if it’s the difference between life and death.
Badges do come at a tangible cost. They’re frequently lost or former employees fail to return them before leaving the company. They can be cracked or forgotten at home, in a bag, or in a jacket pocket. It’s why many companies are replacing separate security badges with smartphone-based access credentials. These credentials, which are accessed through an app, provide the same access as a badge but are more robust, especially when it comes to location services.
Smartphone access credentials tells security and managers who’s in the office in case of an emergency, plus precisely where they are. This particular functionality is where some employees feel a line is being crossed, though the Find My Phone service popular with smartphone users is essentially the same technology. Their concern is not unfounded; it’s possible for management or security to abuse this access or use it as a disciplinary tool. For instance, if a manager can quickly locate an employee and see they’re not at their desk, they might use that information in a formal review without knowing the circumstances. Implementation of an employee access app, as with any new technology, requires a clear conversation about its uses as well as reaffirming trust of managers in their teams.
While there are justifiable concerns as to who has access to location information, smartphone access credentials increase safety and facilitate smoother work days. Apps can hold data such as medical conditions and emergency contacts in case an employee is unable to provide the information. By asking employees to use their phones as access badges, it’s less likely unwanted guests can enter the facility. A badge is easier to lend someone than a personal phone, which holds more value. Similarly, unlike a badge, most phones enable two-factor authentication and an access app can add another layer of protection before opening.
The location services that are part of these apps also allow employees to locate colleagues, which is especially helpful in an office that uses hotel or hot-desking. The app can also be integrated into hot-desk services, so an employee can reserve desk space or a meeting room, or inform colleagues that they’re working from home or in an open lounge area.
As workplaces become smarter, more integrations and upgrades to tried-and-true technology will become apparent. But putting everything online or using GPS tracking is not as sinister as Big Brother theorists want us to think. This technology, while not foolproof, is being developed with the security and safety of valued employees in mind—not to monitor their every step.