Global positioning satellites will soon be able to tell bosses exactly where every employee is. Could this spell the end for slackers?
Picture the scene. Rita was supposed to be attending a seminar in Mumbai when she was awaken from her slumbers by the ring tone from her company-issued mobile phone. 'I'm there now,' she lies to her boss from the comfort of her guesthouse bed, safe in the knowledge that boss will never know otherwise.
But, alas, her mobile phone uses a new technology, which means her boss can pinpoint her exact location. It is the stuff of slackers' nightmares. But 'location-based tracking' - to use the mobile phone industry's terminology - is about to become reality.
Mobile-phone networks will soon be able to pinpoint the precise location of a handset owner to within 10 meters or less. From the middle of next year many phones will carry Global Satellite Positioning chips, while another new technology, known as 'Triangulation', can pinpoint a mobile-phone user's whereabouts by bouncing signals off three phone masts to establish an exact set of co-ordinates.
But the move has sparked huge controversy among civil liberty groups who fear that mobile-phone companies will be able to play Big Boss.
?It's a very worrying development. The scope for the misuse of this technology is enormous?, said spokesman for the civil rights group Liberty.
At the heart of the issue is who should be allowed to track a mobile phone. 'If you have a mobile phone, your network operator must know where you are in order to provide a service. The issue is whether they make that information available to third parties, but that information cannot just be used by anybody. People have to sign up to have the information shared.'
Some experts are worried that firms might make it a condition of an employee's job specification that they give their consent for their phone to be tracked.
If your company issues you with a mobile phone, informing you that it can track you it's probably within the law.
Everyone is convinced that this 'opt-in' system is foolproof. There have been suggestions that the software has already been hacked into by university students in Scotland who then tracked mobile-phone users across the UK.
Information gets passed on and ends up in the wrong hands.
There is further concern that mobile phone users may respond to spam messages sent to their handsets without really knowing what they are signing up to. Children's charities have also expressed alarm that paedophiles might be able to exploit such a system.
Some pro-privacy campaigners go as far as to argue that the technology is part of a wider, more sinister trend to surveillance.
Simon Davies, director of campaign group Privacy International, said that a recent change in the law has meant mobile-phone networks must store a user's data for a year in case the police or the security services need to access it. So worried are the mobile-phone firms at a possible backlash that they have drawn up an industry code of practice designed to see off the threat of legislation regulating the issue.
It is also something, which concerns the European Commission. This week the UK will adopt the EC's Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive, which decrees that a mobile-phone user can be tracked only if he or she explicitly gives consent.
Even those in favour of tracking acknowledge the issue needs to be handled sensitively. 'With any new technology, much depends on how you sell it,' said Emma Hard castle, managing director of mapminder.co.uk, which recently launched an online service that allows people to track an individual's mobile phone.
It's a good way for parents to keep track of their kids rather than phoning them constantly to find out where they are. Taxi operators have also shown some interest in this.
The mobile-phone networks believe the location-based tracking services - which will allow firms to target specific customers when they enter ill become a major marketing weapon in the future. [email protected]