How secure is your business and personal information?

David Brian Ward is the CEO of Safe Site Check In. Opinions are those of the author.

construction Tech is still a fledgling industry, despite investors having invested billions of dollars in the sector over the past few years. As general contractors, site managers and office managers from construction companies gradually introduce technology into their daily processes, they learn that their corner of the digital world is not immune to data protection problems. In particular, the buying and selling of your personal and company data is at risk.

David Brian Ward

Permission given by David Brian Ward

While the problem of buying and selling user data is often associated with consumer apps or social media platforms, the reality is that construction engineering is just as likely to use your data in unexpected ways – some of which require your consent. Construction workers are arguably even more at risk because they are new to the use of technology on construction sites.

For example, officials at a medium-sized construction company recently discovered that one of their suppliers was reselling their data. To make the breach worse, the vendor sold the data to subcontractors and gave them a full view of how much the JV had bid for the job.

For the subcontractor, the data is invaluable as it provides insight into negotiating a higher tariff. For the GC, this is a sham, especially since the numbers don’t reflect a subcontractor’s skills. For example, if a JV has previous experience with a subcontractor and a record of their previous project performance, they may choose to pay a higher or lower rate for better profit based on productivity.

If the construction technology provider reveals the GC’s data, it not only jeopardizes privacy, it also jeopardizes everyone’s business and reputation.

The fine print

Of course, all of this buying and selling of data is perfectly legal. So it says in the construction software provider’s privacy policy – which appears in an incredibly tiny legal language that everyone ignores. Construction engineering firms may sell data because they lack ethics or because law enforcement is weak. Typically, they offer a free service that is paid for in whole or in part through advertising.

You can also peddle a new business model where sharing your data should help you in the long run by creating a “marketplace network”. You need to question and understand the business model to avoid unpleasant surprises or exploitation.

In 2018, during Mark Zuckerberg’s Senate hearing on privacy, everyone quickly understood what his comment meant, “If it’s free, you are the product.” It differs from civil engineering in that GCs are not used to thinking of the technology they use at work in the same technology context they might use after hours. This, along with getting used to the use of technology on a construction site, makes them vulnerable to supposedly private data actually being made public.

Long term benefits

Sometimes the disclosure of user information is not intended. It’s the result of shoddy software development. For example, at the beginning of the pandemic, a number of technology solutions emerged to help contractors cope with their challenges. The breakneck pace of developing a product to stay one step ahead of a rapidly spreading virus resulted in some gaps in the protection of user data that were at times outrageous.

However, as we all got used to living and working during a pandemic, the technology became more sophisticated with better privacy and levels of security. Anyone who has not refined or developed further not only risks their customers’ data, but also misses opportunities.

Take Archway, a Brisbane, Australia-based commercial office design bureau, for example. You are currently in the middle of winter and a spike in COVID-19 cases. For the benefit of the employees and customers of this company and its community, Archway requires everyone to use QR codes to digitally check-in without paper and complete a health survey.

In addition to the obvious benefits of health screenings and contact tracing, Archway can also customize the questions as people arrive. These questions can include:

  • Vaccination status (masks for some, but not all).
  • Employment status (employee, supplier or visitor).
  • Security readiness (watch video or do a short test).
  • whether the employee agrees to a disclaimer or a confidentiality policy.

The longer-term benefits of digital recording include digital security records for compliance or contact tracking, comparing subcontractor invoices with time on site, hourly wage disputes, and researching personnel incidents. Real-time digital data also enables real-time communication with on-site staff in the event of an incident.

For these reasons, construction decision makers need to understand how their technology providers manage and protect their business data and the personal data of their subcontractors, suppliers and website visitors. On the plus side, most vendors’ privacy policies are easy to find with a quick search. However, policies are updated and changed frequently.

The bottom line is to always choose providers who are committed to protecting your data and who ensure that periodically review their policies.

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