SuperGPS Chip Imbedded in Hand:
“Want To Work Here? Accept It.”
By Hania Xie
WINNIPEG, CANADA – Is Big Brother watching? “No,” says Hector Santiago, founder and CEO of EcoFriend, the burgeoning retailer that as of last year is now the world’s largest. “No,” he insists, “Big Brother was a dictator. I am like my company: a friend.” So it’s a friendly surveillance? From his corporate office atop Winnipeg’s new 80-story Prairie Pride skyscraper, Mr. Santiago can track where each of his 78,437 employees are worldwide – for embedded in a hand of each is a advanced GPS device. “Let’s start nearby,” says Mr. Santiago. He types on a computer keyboard.
Bathroom Break in Canada, Standing Around in Australia
On the huge screen, up comes the sprawling Winnipeg warehouse, the size of six football fields, that is the center of EcoFriend’s worldwide distribution system. Mr. Santiago hits more keys. “There,” he says, “Matilda Jackson, forklift operator. The blue dot is her, the green dot is her forklift.” The two dots – blue atop green – move together, then stop. The blue detaches itself, keeps moving. “Bathroom break,” says Hector Santiago. “At least that’s the only authorized reason for this.” He points to the screen, where numbers count down. “Two minute break. Then she should be back on the forklift. And we’ll come back to her. Meanwhile, let’s look at something else. How about…”
He hits more keys. “Store 923, Darwin, Australia. Alejo Matapang, customer service interface. Filipina mother, Tagalog father.” Mr. Santiago smiles. “Perfect, given all the recent immigrants, all the new Aussies.” But now he frowns. He points to the screen, to the stationary blue dot. He says, “A problem. Mr. Matapang should be moving around the store, asking customers if he can help them. The fact that he is not moving…” Mr. Santiago types a note, to follow up. “Now,” he says, “back to Ms. Jackson…”
Saving Lives, Driving Profits
Of course, imbedded GPS devices are nothing new. Many pet owners have long had them in their pets, and many parents have long had them in their children, to keep track. Many worried relatives have long had them in Alzheimer’s victims, who keep wandering off. Governments have long had them in released sex offenders and other ex-inmates. Going back a half century, wealthy Mexicans and other potential targets of kidnappers have had GPS devices embedded in themselves so, if abducted, they can be found. What makes Mr. Santiago’s use of the device is: for the first time, it’s a condition of employment. “It started on my ranch in Manitoba,” he says. “As a safety measure. I own 1.7 million acres – that’s bigger than the state of Delaware – and sometimes some of my cowboys would get lost. Middle of a brushfire or a blizzard. We had a couple die. Putting in the chip – which is only the size of a grain of rice – it’s saved lives. That got me thinking about how it could work in the rest of my employees.”
Mr. Santiago says that no employees have objected. Nor, he says, has it cut down the number of job applicants. “Worldwide, we have about 31 for every opening. In the United States, of course, it’s much higher.” With U.S. unemployment stuck at 22 percent for the last decade and with the image of EcoFriend as a hip place to work, his claim is believable. “The financial community likes it, too,” he says. “I can draw a straight line between the introduction of the chip this January 1 and what we project as our first quarter profits. The chip has increased efficiency 14 percent, cut down on slackers.” Mr. Santiago smiles. “I come from Mexico – and Americans used to mock Mexicans for being lazy, always taking siestas, having a culture of manana. Now” – here his smile turns grim – “none of my employees takes unauthorized siestas.”
A Big Heart. A Big Eye. And a Big Ear?
Indeed, experts say that the advanced chip which EcoFriend is using can do more than track employees’ movements. It can monitor whether they are standing, sitting or lying down. It can monitor their breathing and heart rate, to report if they are awake or asleep. And it may even be able to monitor sound waves – hence, conversation. Hence, experts say, other companies will soon be following EcoFriend’s lead. Asked about what else the SuperGPS chip can monitor, Hector Santiago said, “Heart rate? Well, that would be a good thing, wouldn’t it? I mean, if one of my employees was having a heart attack and we could save them in time? That would be wonderful.” He smiled. “EcoFriend is a company with a big heart.”