5 ways Amazon monitors its employees, from AI cameras to hiring a spy agency

  • Amazon has come under fire for some workplace practices in the past and amid a recent union effort.
  • We’ve rounded up all the tactics the company uses to track employees and contractors.
  • One of the factors driving pro-union sentiment, workers say, is a feeling of being watched by Amazon.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

For drivers, there’s the controversial Netradyne Driveri system

Drivers for Amazon, many of whom are third-party contractors driving Amazon vans, learned earlier this year that their vans would start to feature a four-part camera with biometric feedback indicators, according to Insider’s reporting in February. The system monitors if drivers look away from the road, speed, or even yawn, and then can send a live feed of the recording to managers. Some drivers found the practice invasive, and at least one driver quit in protest, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

When asked for comment about the delivery driver quitting, Amazon provided positive driver testimonials and said to Insider in a statement that it’s “investing in safety across our operations and recently started rolling out industry leading camera-based safety technology across our delivery fleet.”

For warehouse workers, there’s “time off task” and social distancing “assistants”

In April of 2019, Insider reported that the company was instituting a system tracking warehouse workers’ “time off task,” or the amount of time they are not directly working. The system, per Insider’s reporting, can result in a warehouse worker’s termination without directly involving a human supervisor or manager. In a statement to Insider at the time, Amazon said “It is absolutely not true that employees are terminated through an automatic system,” and maintained that despite automated tracking, personnel decisions involve managers.

Time off task has been a factor in the Bessemer, Alabama, union vote: one worker told Insider that she felt workers were unfairly punished and the system was not sufficiently transparent. The employee also told Insider that managers had the ability to edit time off task “at their discretion.”

https://www.youtube.com/embed/FexuGnXVkvE

 

This video, which was included in an Insider report from June 2020 and has now been unlisted on the Amazon News YouTube account, demonstrates how the distance assistant works: green circles surround workers if they maintain six feet of distance. If workers get too close to each other, the circles light up red. 

For some Whole Foods employees, there are unionization “heat maps”

Insider reported in April 2020 that after acquiring Whole Foods, Amazon kept track of dozens of factors that indicated pro-union sentiment, including the distance to a union office and the number of human resource complaints at the store in question. The metrics came up with a ranking of the then-510 locations based on the likelihood of the workers at these locations pursuing a union effort.

Insider reported that in a statement on the map, Amazon wrote: “The [Team Member] Relations Heatmap is designed to identify stores at risk of unionization.” When asked by Insider about the map, a representative from Amazon said that when Whole Foods workers were surveyed, they said they would rather have a “direct relationship” with managers in lieu of union representation.

For some European warehouse workers, the Pinkerton Spy Agency has gotten involved

Motherboard reported in November 2020 that leaked documents showed that Amazon had worked with the Pinkerton Spy Agency, famous for its anti-union efforts, to spy on warehouse workers across Europe. And in December 2020, Insider reported that operatives from Pinkerton had infiltrated a private strike in Barcelona, drawing up a report on the workers and journalists in attendance. Amazon responded to Insider’s reporting on the Barcelona strike, saying “any activity we undertake is fully in line with local laws and conducted with the full knowledge and support of local authorities.”

Do you work at Amazon? Got a tip? Contact this reporter at awilliams@insider.com. Always use a non-work email.

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