Employee monitoring comes with many benefits for both employers and employees, which is why it has become a must, especially for companies with field and hourly workers. As long as you stay compliant with privacy data regulations and are transparent with your team about what you're tracking and when, there's no need to worry.
However, you should be very careful regarding the monitoring software you're using because not all time and location tracking apps are made equal.
There’s a big difference between free vs. paid apps in light of data security concerns. This article will discuss this topic in detail to help you choose a reliable solution for your business.
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Before we talk about whether free apps are safe and what you should consider before downloading one, it’s essential to distinguish between two similar but not interchangeable terms - data security and data privacy.
Data privacy is an aspect of data security focused on handling personal data, such as collecting, storing, and sharing it with third parties. It also deals with consent and regulatory compliance.
So, when you want to ensure your employees’ data privacy, think about the following:
Whether and how their personal data is shared with third parties - something that’s definitely worth looking into when using time-tracking apps
How to legally collect and store their data
Staying compliant with privacy regulations, such as the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA.)
The role of data security is to protect data from internal and external malicious threats. This practice refers to all the best practices, tools, and methods for safeguarding data from unauthorized access, corruption, or theft.
Given that time and location-tracking apps necessarily collect your employee data, you should be very careful when opting for a reliable solution. Otherwise, you risk dangerous data breaches and violating data privacy regulations.
Now that we distinguished between data privacy and data safety let’s discuss why using free apps can pose a threat to both.
Are Free Apps Safe?
Every business wants to minimize operational costs, so free apps usually seem like a budget-friendly idea.
But, what you can’t be sure of is whether a free app is safe or whether it will compromise your and your employees’ privacy and security.
According to a recent study, 55.2% of apps available on Google Play admit to sharing user data. It’s worth highlighting that free apps share, on average, 7 times more data points than their paid counterparts. These results bring us to the next question:
Are Free Mobile Apps Really Free?
Unfortunately, there’s no free lunch.
Apps marketed as free usually come with another kind of price tag - you pay for them with your personal data. One of the most popular monetization strategies free apps leverage is accumulating and selling their users' personal data to third parties.
We live in a digital age in which data is seen as a commodity. So, many companies are willing to pay to obtain customer information such as personal preferences, contact details, internet searches, visited sites, and even physical locations someone has been to.
Can Apps Steal Data Without Permission?
Does the fact that free apps monetize users’ personal data means they practically steal data without permission? The answer isn’t as simple. The point is that users themselves give this permission by not reading the fine print and clicking “I agree” without knowing what they’re signing up for.
Even some of the big names in the tech industry such as Facebook and Google, capitalize on the data they collect from their billions of users. The former was even involved in several data-privacy scandals.
So, by downloading free apps and instructing your employees to do the same for the purpose of time or location tracking, you’re practically trading your company’s and employees’ personal data in exchange for free service.
This data privacy issue isn’t the only reason why you should think twice before opting for free apps vs. paid apps.
What Are the Biggest Disadvantages of Using Free Vs. Paid Apps?
Apart from potentially unethical data practices, there are other disadvantages to using free apps that pose an even greater threat to your business. So, what are the most common app security issues for mobile applications?
Free apps might contain malware, whose purpose is to infect mobile devices and gain access to highly sensitive data or even allow malicious actors to take control of a device remotely.
Even though app stores have vetting procedures in place and keep monitoring apps after including them in their offer, it’s still impossible to completely prevent malware-infected apps from worming their way into users’ mobile devices.
For example, the Autolycos malware present in several Android free apps available on the Google Play Store subscribed unsuspecting users to its premium, expensive services. The Store subsequently removed the infected mobile apps, but around 3 million users had already been exposed to malware.
2. Broken Cryptography
Encryption has become a staple in protecting sensitive data. However, in some cases, when developers want to speed up the development process, they use encryption algorithms they’re familiar with despite being aware of their security vulnerabilities and flaws.
This makes cracking passwords and gaining access to sensitive data much easier for hackers. Again, it’s very unlikely that companies developing paid apps would allow such a mistake to go unnoticed. They typically enforce high encryption standards to prevent any potential code-related security issues.
3. Trojan Horses
Trojan horses leverage social engineering to trick users into downloading and running them. These malicious apps are either bundled with other apps or use spoofing or phishing tactics to convince users they’re legit software.
Once the user hits download, the Trojan Horse, disguised as a legitimate app, manages to gain system access and control over the device. What follows is usually data loss, corruption, or modification.
4. Compliance Issues
This particular issue has less to do with data theft and all the scenarios we mentioned in previous sections but can nevertheless result in legal and financial penalties.
Implementing a time-tracking app isn’t just a convenience that will improve your team’s productivity and performance and keep them on track with their tasks. It’s a necessity for staying compliant with FLSA and state regulations.
The Fair Labor Standards Act is a federal law aiming to protect employees by establishing the minimum wage, overtime regulations, recordkeeping practices, and youth employment. The FLSA mandates employers to keep records of their employee hours. This stipulation refers to hours worked, clock-in and out times, breaks, time off, overtime, hourly rate, and other employment-related information for non-exempt hourly and, in some cases, salaried exempt employees.
While this law doesn’t require employers to use time trackers, it does insist on accurate and detailed recordkeeping. Another requirement is to keep employee records for at least three years.
If you use a free app, you can’t be sure how accurate and reliable it is, which means you risk failing to properly calculate your employees’ pay or not having compliant records. Needless to say, such mistakes are very costly, so app security should be your top priority when picking a solution for monitoring employees.
Even if a reliable app offers a free version, it’s usually with limited features and functionalities, so you won’t be able to use it for your business purposes.
There’s a lot at stake when it comes to collecting and storing this kind of employee data, so time-tracking software isn’t something where you should be cutting corners.
5. Lack of Transparency
Many employers use location-tracking tools to monitor field employees’ location during their working hours.
This is a sensitive subject since it concerns employees’ privacy, so you have to be very careful about it.
The employee GPS-tracking dilemma is multifaceted - even after you obtain employees’ consent for tracking their location, it’s crucial to ensure that this happens only while they’re on the clock. Otherwise, it would be considered an invasion of their privacy, and, as you can guess, it can be a legal ground for litigation and expensive lawsuits and damages.
If you opt for a free employee GPS tracking app, you can’t be 100% certain whether it stops collecting data during employees’ personal time. Our blog post about whether it’s safe to use free employee GPS-tracking apps will give you a more detailed insight into the topic.
Since we can conclude that free apps come with a number of risks associated with data security concerns for both your employees and business, it’s best to invest in a paid solution.
This way, you’ll be able to monitor employee time and location accurately and within legal requirements, thus maintaining regulatory compliance.
Timeero is a great choice since its features reflect the needs of small businesses for GPS and time-tracking in a safe and compliant manner. With Timeero, you won’t have to worry about employee data privacy and security.
Timeero features GPS time clock functionality with automated time cards. Once employee clocks in, their time card entry will automatically be created, thus allowing you to track employee hours with utmost precision. Thanks to this, human error is reduced to a minimum.
What does this mean for employee data privacy and security?
You can track employee hours accurately and easily see whether someone has worked overtime and pay them accurately. Simply implement overtime payment regulations for your state, and the app will automatically calculate pay based on the number of hours and other relevant parameters.
Timeero helps you keep track of your employees’ breaks, ensuring that your business complies with relevant legislation and improving their accountability. For example, in certain states such as California, non-exempt employees are entitled to two paid 10-minute breaks within an 8-hour shift and one unpaid 30-minute break. As an employer, you need to follow these guidelines and provide your employees with opportunities to use these breaks and document them. Timeero’s California breaks tracker helps you avoid any potential legal issues, costly penalties, and fines.
Time and location tracking are limited to only while employees are working. Once they clock out, the app stops running. As it does not capture employees’ locations during their breaks, there’s no risk of invading their privacy.
Geofencing and scheduling will ensure that employees who forget to clock in or out will get a reminder to do so. Therefore, you’ll avoid overpaying someone only because they unnecessarily started their shift earlier or stayed on the clock even after they stopped working. This will also give you full control and overview of employee overtime hours and prevent legal issues.
Clearly defined user roles allow for protecting employee privacy. There are 3 role categories - administrators, managers, and employees. Only administrators have full privileges and access to all data. Managers can see only data related to their team, while employees have access to their own data only.
Free Apps Vs. Paid Apps - Data Security Considerations
Data privacy and security have become increasingly important with the proliferation of different apps, gadgets, and trackers for business and personal use. As an employer, it’s your responsibility to ensure that employee data you collect, store, and process is necessary for business purposes, as well as that it’s properly secured.
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Natasa is a writer specializing in the IT and software industry with 6+ years of experience in content writing and online marketing. During that period, she wrote more than 1,000 articles and several ebooks. She majored in English language and literature and loves cats, sneakers, and candy. When she's not working, she's probably binge-watching Netflix.