Surveillance firms around the world are licking their lips at a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to cash in on the coronavirus by repositioning one of their most invasive products: the tracking bracelet.
Body monitors are associated with criminality and guilt in the popular imagination, the accessories of Wall Street crooks under house arrest and menace-to-society parolees. Unlike smartphones, de facto tracking devices in their own right, strapped-on trackers are expressly designed to be attached to the body and exist solely to report the user’s whereabouts and interactions to one or more third parties; they don’t play podcasts or tell you how many steps you took that day to sweeten the surveillance.
But a climate of perpetual bio-anxiety has paved the way for broader acceptance of carceral technologies, with a wave of companies trying to sell tracking accessories to business owners eager to reopen under the aegis of responsible social distancing and to governments hoping to keep a closer eye on people under quarantine.
Take AiRISTA Flow, a Maryland-based outfit that helps corporations track their “assets,” breathing or not. In an April 21 press release, the company announced it would begin selling Bluetooth and Wi-Fi trackers to be worn on an employee’s wrist like a Fitbit — or around their neck like a cowbell. “When people come within six feet of each other for a period of time,” the company wrote in a press release, “the device makes an audible chirp and a record of the contact is made in the AiRISTA Flow software system.” But the tracking goes far beyond audible chirps: AiRISTA’s platform allows employers to continuously upload a record of close encounters to a corporate cloud, providing an up-to-date list of presumed social distancing violators that would double as a detailed record of workplace social interactions.
The company’s marketing language is explicit in talking up the nonviral benefits of tracking your workers’ every move: By helping companies “Locate people and things in real time” (the two are seemingly treated interchangeably), they can expect a “Reduction in unplanned downtime,” “Improved asset utilization rates, [and a] reduced need for spares.”