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How safe is your business and personal data?

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David Brian Ward is the CEO of Safe Site Check In. Opinions are the author’s own.

Construction tech is still a nascent industry, despite the fact that investors have put billions of dollars into the sector over the past several years. As general contractors, site supervisors and office managers at construction firms gradually bring technology into their day-to-day processes, they’re learning that their corner of the digital world is not immune to privacy issues. Specifically, the buying and selling of their personal and company data is at risk.

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David Brian Ward

Permission granted by David Brian Ward

 

While the issue of buying and selling user data is often associated with consumer apps or social media platforms, the reality is that construction tech is just as likely to use your data in unexpected ways — some of which require you to agree. Arguably, workers in the construction industry are even more at risk because the use of technology on jobsites is still new to them.

For example, officials at a mid-sized construction company recently discovered that one of their vendors was reselling its data. Adding insult to injury, the vendor was reselling the data to subcontractors, providing them with a complete view into how much the GC was bidding on the job.

For the subcontractor, the data is invaluable, providing insight for negotiating a higher rate. For the GC, this is subterfuge, especially since the numbers don’t reflect a subcontractor’s skill set. For example, if a GC has prior experience with a subcontractor and a record of their past performance on projects, they may choose to pay a higher or lower rate to earn a better profit based on productivity.

When the construction tech vendor exposes the GC’s data, they not only compromise privacy, they also put everybody’s business and reputations at risk.

The fine print

Of course, all of this buying and selling of data is perfectly legal. It says so in the construction software vendor’s privacy policy — the one that appears in an impossibly tiny print in legal language that everybody ignores. Construction tech firms may sell data because they lack ethics or because legal enforcement is weak. More typically, they will offer a free service paid for in all or part by advertising.

They may also be peddling a nouveau business model where sharing your data is supposed to help you in the long run by creating a “marketplace network.” You need to ask and understand the business model to avoid unpleasant surprises or exploitation.

In 2018, during Mark Zuckerberg’s Senate hearing on data privacy, everybody quickly understood what is meant by his comment that, “When it’s free, you’e the product.” The difference with construction tech is that GCs aren’t used to thinking of the technology they use at work in the same context of technology they may use after hours. This, along with getting comfortable with using technology on a jobsite, makes them vulnerable to having what they assume is private data actually made public.

Long-term benefits

Sometimes the exposure of user data is not deliberate. It’s the result of shoddy software development. For example, at the beginning of the pandemic, a slew of technology solutions emerged to help contractors mitigate its challenges. The breakneck pace of developing a product to get ahead of a rapidly moving virus led to some gaps in protecting user data, sometimes egregiously so. 

However, as we all began to adjust to living and working through a pandemic, the technology has become increasingly sophisticated with greater privacy protections and layers of security. Those construction tech providers that have not refined or evolved are not only putting their customers’ data at risk, they are missing opportunities.

Take for example Archway, a Brisbane, Australia-based commercial office design firm. They’re currently in the middle of winter and a rise in COVID-19 cases. For the benefit of this company’s employees and clients, and their community, Archway is diligently requiring everybody to use QR codes to digitally check in without paper and answer a health survey. 

Going beyond the obvious benefits of health screenings and contact tracing, Archway can also customize the questions when people arrive. Those questions can include:

  • vaccination status (masks for some but not all).
  • employment status (employee, vendor or visitor).
  • safety readiness (view a video or take a brief test).
  • whether the worker agrees to a liability waiver or non-disclosure policy.

The longer-term benefits of having a digital record include digital safety records for compliance or contact tracing, reconciling subcontractor invoices with time on site, hourly wage disputes and human resources incident research. Real time digital data also enables real-time communications with onsite personnel should an incident arise.

For these reasons, construction firm decisionmakers need to know how their technology providers manage and protect their business data and the personal data of their subcontractors, vendors and site visitors. On the plus side, most vendor privacy policies are easy to find through a quick search. However, policies are updated and changed frequently.

The bottom line is to always choose vendors committed to protecting your data and be sure to revisit their policies on a regular basis.

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