It is possible to collect location data relating to employees through smartphone Apps if used in order to optimize the usage of resources and improve their management, coordination and timing provided that this practice complies with the stringent obligations imposed by the Italian privacy authority.

The decision of the Italian privacy authority

As covered in this post, the monitoring of employees under Italian law is subject to considerable regulatory restrictions not only under Italian data protection law, but also under the Italian Workers’ Bill that, among others, requires a consultation with trade unions when any monitoring system is put in place.

Two telecom companies requested an opinion from the Italian privacy authority on the usage of a monitoring tool aimed at optimising the exploitation of their employees in charge of the maintaining the telecom network.  These employees were provided with a smartphone App  enabling their employers to track their location through a GPS technology in order to ensure the most efficient timing of their activities when necessary and to improve their safety in case of emergencies.  Such application would not continuously collect location data, but every 10 minutes deleting the location data relating to the previous detection once the new location data is collected.

The Italian privacy authority took a very forward looking approach allowing the collection of location data through such smartphone App provided that:

  1. The data collected through the app are only those concerning the location of the employees without any further information relating for instance to telephone calls;
  2. A dedicated icon is displayed on the smartphones to notify employees about when location data is being collected;
  3. The access to the data collected through the App is limited to people adequately authorised because of their working activity;
  4. The data processing activity is previously notified to the privacy authority;
  5. A prior privacy information notice listing the data that can be collected and the features of the App together with a description of the consequences of the deactivation of the App during the working hours is provided to employees;
  6. The recommendations prescribed by the guidelines of the Italian privacy authority on the monitoring of email and Internet are complied with;
  7. The employees are able to exercise their right of access to the data collected about them; and
  8. The security measures imposed by the Italian data protection law are complied with in the storage of the data.

If the conditions above are met, the collection of the location data can occur even without the consent of employees since such data processing is functional to meet organization and production needs of the employer as well as safety purposes.

Consequences for distribution of products and the Internet of Things

The decision mentioned above might have consequences in other sectors.  In particular, it might show a flexibility by the Italian privacy authority in the usage of employees’ monitoring tools also in the distribution of products for instance in the fashion and in the healthcare sectors.  Indeed, such sectors require a monitoring of the distribution chain (e.g. the trucks delivering the products or merchandising material) in order to prevent thefts and maximize their efficiency, but employment and data protection law restrictions were a major obstacle so far to their implementation.

Likewise, with the growth of the Internet of Things the tools allowing the monitoring of employees will considerably increase with potential room for the improvement of companies’ efficiency.

These measures together with the recent measures adopted with reference to RFID might represent a major step forward in the usage of such technologies and might be used as legal basis also for the usage of similar technologies including the beacons.