Tracking bracelets bought by Ontario government raise privacy concerns

TraceSCAN bands made by Facedrive are shown in a split-screen image with Ontario Premier Doug Ford. (Business Wire/The Canadian Press)
TraceSCAN bands made by Facedrive are shown in a split-screen image with Ontario Premier Doug Ford. (Business Wire/The Canadian Press)

Wearable tracking bracelets that beep or vibrate when the wearer comes too close to another person are now available in workforces across Ontario. The Ford government announced last week that it invested $2.5 million in producing the technology, known as TraceSCAN, through Scarborough-based company Facedrive.

The bracelets are intended to help slow the spread of COVID-19 in workplaces and other areas where the COVID alert app isn’t able to be used, such as airlines, schools, construction sites, and long-term care homes. The device can track staff exposure to COVID-19 without GPS information.

“If anyone in the working premises reports COVID-19 positive, HR or health and safety officials can log in to the online reporting dashboard and see who they have been in contact with and their risk level, then send an exposure notification,” the company’s press release stated. “Contact tracing will be made simple with all of the close proximity contact having been recorded.”

According to Facedrive, some of the businesses and organizations that are currently using the technology include Air Canada, LiUNA and Waywayseecappo First Nation.

On social media, some wondered why resources weren’t going towards tracing and testing, while others voiced concerns about privacy.

Graeme Hirst is a professor in the department of computer science at the University of Toronto. He says when it comes to the issue of privacy, it seems that the places that choose to use the device, whether it’s a packing facility or long term care home, have access to all the data.

“The degree to which it’s confidential, as far as we can tell from the information given, depends entirely on the discretion and good practices of the employer and how they handle employee data,” he tells Yahoo Canada.

He says that if these devices are mandated in a workplace, there’s likely no particular expectation of privacy anyway.

“Your employer has the right to know, in most cases, where you’re going around and who else in the company you’re seeing,” he says. “As far as we can tell, all the data goes back to the employer, and the privacy is as good or as bad as the employer’s regular HR practices are.”

A representative with the information and privacy commission of Ontario said that all private businesses, like Facedrive and those using the devices, are subject to the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA).

Facedrive did not respond to interview requests. You can watch a promotional video for the bands below: