Is Big Brother watching you? Or merely tracking your time?

Big Brother is watching you. Or at least your employer, your clients, and countless strangers on the Internet are watching you. Today, no part of our lives seem to be private anymore — but at least there are attempts being made to regain our ‘right to be forgotten’. The EU have imposed their new data protection regulations, which means the spotlight is on what’s being done with our information. It’s a law which seems to be being treated alarmingly calmly by the majority of organizations, two-thirds of which reportedly aren’t prepared. Essentially, companies need to take better care of consumer information — or risk facing colossal fines.

This is the first of two articles we’re publishing focusing on data protection and online privacy. If you’re concerned about time tracking apps tracking your personal information — not to mention Internet activity — we’re going to answer some of those questions. We’ll also tell you how (and why) to protect what you want to remain private. Because detail about what you’ve been doing is great… until it’s detail you don’t want, or simply too much. Whether you’re an employee using time tracking software, or a freelancer invoicing your clients, it’s your right to know where your information is going.

Time tracking - is it a threat to privacy?

Why track time in the first place?

Time tracking is becoming more commonplace for a variety of reasons, not only for remote workers. Companies have always been suspicious of their employees, but now they have the tools at their disposal to actually track what their employees are doing — both at their computer, and away from it. Two-thirds of employees say they check their social media at work, meaning the temptation to track screen activity is fairly self-explanatory.

Aside from screen tracking, GPS tracking — through apps installed on their employees’ work phones — is also becoming commonplace. This allows employees to keep tabs on expenses which can add up, such as overtime worked or excessively long lunch breaks, both of which can cost a company thousands of dollars per year, per employee.

It’s not just the employer who benefits from time tracking, but also the freelancer, and the employee. Time tracking helps correctly invoice for billable time worked, as well as helping you work out where your time is going. If you want to try and increase your productivity, there’s no better place to start than with a time tracking app.

Ever feel like you're being tracked?

What are the ethical issues with time tracking?

While being resoundingly useful, the question with any sort of employee monitoring is, ‘when is this simply making sure everyone’s being treated fairly, and when is it micromanaging and invasive?’ Although GPS tracking through phones and vehicles is legal across the US, it’s frowned upon to do so outside of work hours… even if there isn’t technically anything stopping employers from doing so.

If an employee has given consent to having a tracking app installed on their phone or in their vehicle, then it’s up to them to clock out or shut it off when their shift is over. Most apps recommend best practices for employers, such as only storing the minimum amount of data. Discrimination laws in the US are supposed to protect employees from being fired for their out-of-work conduct, but this isn’t widespread across all states.

The moral considerations of time tracking are also relevant to screen tracking. When choosing an app, it’s important to choose one that is thorough, while also respecting privacy. The most commonly debated issue is screenshotting, which, despite being something used and encouraged by some of the major time tracking apps, seems to be damaging to morale. Professor Corey A. Ciocchetti, in her dissertation The Eavesdropping Employer: A Twenty – First Century Framework for Employee Monitoring, says of screenshotting:

“Monitoring an employee’s electronic footprint in this manner is extremely invasive and can paint an incomplete picture. […] When employees become aware that their employer is monitoring their computer, either before or after the fact, the[re are] negative repercussions on morale and dignity […].”

If tracking browser use, tracking the paths and sites visited in written form protects privacy far better than screenshotting. In the worst-case scenario when tracking paths, management might need to discuss inappropriate use of non-work sites during work hours. By tracking screenshots, however, management have access to personal conversations or information about an employee’s personal life.

What are the benefits of time tracking for all involved?

Correctly used, time tracking can result in a more profitable company by improving productivity, as well as staff who have a proven track record of being efficient and reliable. Time tracking is also capable of stopping staff from overworking themselves, meaning that if someone has worked 4 late nights in a week, they might be justified asking for an extra day off. Accurately monitoring time worked can also allow for more flexible benefits, such as several days a week working from home — as companies can have more trust that their employees are working when they say they are.

For freelancers, the benefits are numerous. Time tracking makes invoicing easier, as well as making it easy to work a sensible number of hours — rather than falling into the trap of working until midnight. Even if you are not billing by the hour, time tracking is crucial for controlling time spent on projects. This prevents a project’s workload spiraling out of control, making it unprofitable for you. If you’re burned out, or if you seem to be constantly unproductive and losing time without knowing where your day has gone, detailed time tracking can fix that.

What’s Timing doing with my information?

As a time tracking app which collects detailed information about your day, we at Timing are aware of the privacy implications of this tracking. Our software respects your privacy, and so we don’t take screenshots, or store your data online (let alone sell it). Rather, we track your website paths down to the second — but for your eyes only. We only store your information locally on your Mac, so you have full control over it. It’s then up to you whether you export it to send you, your clients or employer.

If you want to do something that you’d rather not have tracked, you can pause Timing’s tracking at any time. It can also detect Chrome and Safari incognito windows, and knows that whatever happens on them is your private business (these are only tracked as “Private” by default, and you can have Timing not track them at all). Timing also includes a Blacklist feature that lets you prevent specific apps, websites or folders from being tracked altogether. For our full privacy policy, you can check our website here.

Time tracking can be good for everyone, but make sure the boundaries about what it is and isn’t being used for are clear. Employees need to know who’s being tracked, what’s being tracked, and why. Honesty really is the best policy to keep everyone happy and everyone’s best interests at heart, so team morale can be high. Make sure you keep an eye out for our next article, which will be discussing how to maintain your online privacy, and where exactly your data is going that you need to be aware of.

Want a time tracking app that values both detail and accuracy, and privacy? Download a free trial of Timing today.