Categories
Labor actions Surveillance Capitalism

Amazon Automates Firings; 21st Century Sweatshop

Apparently, Amazon is firing people in such massive numbers for failing to meet “productivity” goals, that it has turned the process over to A-I tracking and robots to carry out the dismissals.

How Amazon automatically tracks and fires warehouse workers for ‘productivity’ – The Verge

Excerpt:

Documents obtained by The Verge show those productivity firings are far more common than outsiders realize. In a signed letter last year, an attorney representing Amazon said the company fired “hundreds” of employees at a single facility between August of 2017 and September 2018 for failing to meet productivity quotas. A spokesperson for the company said that, over that time, roughly 300 full-time associates were terminated for inefficiency.

The number represents a substantial portion of the facility’s workers: a spokesperson said the named fulfillment center in Baltimore includes about 2,500 full-time employees today. Assuming a steady rate, that would mean Amazon was firing more than 10 percent of its staff annually, solely for productivity reasons. The numbers are even more staggering in North America as a whole. Amazon operates more than 75 fulfillment centers with more than 125,000 full-time employees, suggesting thousands lose their jobs with the company annually for failing to move packages quickly enough.

The documents also show a deeply automated tracking and termination process. “Amazon’s system tracks the rates of each individual associate’s productivity,” according to the letter, “and automatically generates any warnings or terminations regarding quality or productivity without input from supervisors.” (Amazon says supervisors are able to override the process.)

Critics see the system as a machine that only sees numbers, not people. “One of the things that we hear consistently from workers is that they are treated like robots in effect because they’re monitored and supervised by these automated systems,” Mitchell says. “They’re monitored and supervised by robots.”

Categories
Surveillance Capitalism

Amazon Effort to Re-invent Health Care Fails

Sometimes even big, powerful monopolies are incapable of overcoming the contradictions of their own system. According to a report in the NY Times, Amazon’s effort to re-invent employer based health care coverage, which briefly knocked down insurance industry share values, has died. Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway (Warren Buffett’s conglomerate) and JP MorganChase bank had announced a join venture in 2018 called Haven. [Buffett, Bezos and Chase’s Jamie Dimon are pictured above in an AP photo.] It was designed to start with their own employees, and work out from there to tecniques and a “product” that could streamline health coverage. But it died a quiet death in January.

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/04/business/haven-amazon-berkshire-hathaway-jpmorgan.html

Excerpt:

A joint venture formed by Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase to explore new ways to deliver health care to their employees is disbanding, according to a short statement on its website. The company, Haven, will cease operations at the end of February — three years after its arrival sent shock waves through the health care industry.

“Haven explored a wide range of health care solutions, as well as piloted new ways to make primary care easier to access, insurance benefits simpler to understand and easier to use, and prescription drugs more affordable,” the statement said. …

But two people familiar with the collaboration said logistical hurdles had made it harder than expected to come up with new ideas that made sense for all three companies.

Berkshire Hathaway, one of the people said, had a wide variety of systems for administering health care at the companies it owns, so across-the-board changes were difficult even internally. And JPMorgan funds its own health care plan for its employees, which posed a challenge to applying ideas that could work for Amazon and Berkshire Hathaway.

A NY Times tech newsletter takes matters further:

Let me go back to one of Amazon’s high-profile projects in groceries. To sum up the company’s last 15 years: Amazon operated a grocery-delivery service for a decade without much success. Then nearly four years ago it bought the Whole Foods chain of 500 grocery stores for more than $13 billion. That hasn’t been a smash. Now Amazon is building a different chain from scratch with stores that Bloomberg News described as somewhere between a Trader Joe’s and larger supermarkets.
There have been news reports that Amazon has dreams of heavily automated stores and plans to eliminate cash registers in lots of places. Maybe Amazon wants to use its grocery outposts as prep centers for deliveries of fresh fish and dish soap.
This is where I add that it’s possible I will look like an idiot for writing this. Groceries, robots for the home, pharmaceutical drugs and health insurance are all areas worthy of innovation. It’s just helpful to think of Amazon’s efforts as experiments — sometimes bad ones — rather than fully baked marvels of creation.
Categories
Amazon/Whole Foods Monopoly Power Labor actions Surveillance Capitalism

Amazon Installs A-I Surveillance in Delivery Vans

https://www.cnbc.com/2021/02/03/amazon-using-ai-equipped-cameras-in-delivery-vans.html

Excerpts:

Amazon drivers at some U.S. facilities will soon have an extra set of eyes watching them when they hit the road to make their daily deliveries.

The company recently began testing AI-equipped cameras in vehicles to monitor contracted delivery drivers while they’re on the job, with the aim of improving safety.

Amazon has deployed the cameras in Amazon-branded cargo vans used by a handful of companies that are part of its delivery service partner program, which are largely responsible for last-mile deliveries. The cameras could be rolled out to additional DSPs over time, and Amazon has already distributed an instructional video to DSPs, informing them of how the cameras work.

Deborah Bass, an Amazon spokesperson, confirmed to CNBC that the company has begun using the AI-equipped cameras across its delivery fleet. Some details of Amazon’s plans were previously reported by The Information.

Categories
Amazon/Whole Foods Monopoly Power Labor actions Surveillance Capitalism

Ex-FBI Agents in Amazon Security Ops

 

https://theintercept.com/2021/02/11/amazon-jobs-security-fbi/

Excerpt:

At least 26 ex-FBI agents and employees currently work at Amazon, holding positions in the security division, software development, human resources, and board of advisers, according to a review of LinkedIn. The company’s earliest hires were in 2007 and 2008 — for “Deputy Chief Information Security Officer and VP of Security Engineering” and “Chief Information Security Officer,” respectively — but hiring really started ramping up in 2019, when eight former law enforcement specialists were brought on board in security roles.

A wide variety of jobs fall under the umbrella of security. The company, whose cloud computing service, Amazon Web Services, is one of the largest web hosts in the world, has to ward off potential cyberattacks on its servers and work to prevent the theft of its array of merchandise. Hiring in the security division also includes monitoring employees, according to several job descriptions, and, in the past, has included tracking union activism. And the company’s embrace of former law enforcement officials follows a familiar path among other industries that have faced labor and activist pressure.

LAST YEAR, AFTER Amazon was caught trying to hire two “intelligence analysts” tasked with tracking “labor organizing threats” within and outside the company, it quietly filled those positions with two former FBI agents and hired four others.

The company had posted job listings seeking an “Intelligence Analyst” and “Sr Intelligence Analyst,” both based in Phoenix, to monitor and collect information on organized labor, activist groups, “hostile political leaders,” and other sensitive topics. Amazon deleted the job listings after fierce backlash from labor groups and the public.

The deleted listings, accessible on the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, described the job duties and listed previous experience in “intelligence analysis and or watch officer skill set in the intelligence community, the military, law enforcement, or a related global security role in the private sector” among their preferred qualifications.

Categories
Amazon/Whole Foods Monopoly Power Labor actions Surveillance Capitalism

Bezos Kicks Himself Upstairs to Build Greater Monopoly Power

In the artist’s rendering of Amazon’s projected “HQ2”, is it melting, or burning?

https://www.axios.com/amazons-next-act-bezos-jassy-9cdfdb3c-0094-49fd-8d1a-966f69dd1d73.html

Excerpt and links:

In choosing top official Andy Jassy as the new CEO beginning in Q3, but staying on as executive chairman, Jeff Bezos, 57, is perpetuating Amazon ambitions that exceed the public’s imagination, Ina Fried writes.

  • Jassy, 53 — CEO of Amazon Web Services (AWS), the company’s cloud services unit — gave Amazon a key profit engine to fuel its outsized ambitions. AWS boasts profit margins that outstrip retail’s.

Between the lines: When people thought Amazon was building “Earth’s Biggest Bookstore,” it was actually building “The Everything Store.”

  • When people thought it was focused on that, Amazon was expanding to web services and then advertising.
  • When people thought it was laser-focused on all things online, Amazon moved into physical retail, buying Whole Foods and launching the cashier-less Amazon Go convenience stores.
  • Amazon’s culture runs deep. Executives tend to either gain some experience and move on to places with more lavish perks or better work-life balance, or they buy into the Amazon approach and stay forever.There are few better examples of that than Jassy, who joined Amazon in 1997 — 24 years ago.
  • Yes, but: Many have awakened to Amazon’s size and power. Pressure from policymakers, and from within the company’s own ranks, won’t go away with a change in management.
    • Just Tuesday, the Federal Trade Commission fined Amazon $62 million for allegedly stiffing delivery drivers. The FTC is also said to be working with states to investigate the company over antitrust concerns.
    • Activist employees, meanwhile, are increasingly looking to unionize, pressure the company on business and environmental issues, or both.
  • Stepping back from day-to-day operations will free Bezos to focus more on aspirations beyond the company:
    • Blue Origin, Bezos’ space venture, will benefit from more of Bezos’ drive and ambition.
    • Like Elon Musk, Bezos talks about the strategic importance of space as an exit plan for the human race if Earth becomes uninhabitable.
    • Amazon CFO Brian Olsavky said on an earnings call that Bezos will remain involved in many “large, one-way door” issues, including acquisitions and planning new lines of business.
    • [Not to mention, which it doesn’t, that Bezos personally owns the Washington Post. And that includes radio station WTWP (The Washington Post), successor to WTOP which the paper used to own but sold off.]
Categories
Surveillance Capitalism

Avril Haines, Palantir & the Biden Administration

Recent disclosures of enormous fees earned from Wall Street by Joe Biden’s prospective Cabinet and other appointees have focused more on Janet Yellen for Treasury Secretary and proposed Secretary of State Blinken, but an especially troubling example is Avril Haines for Director of National Intelligence. Haines was paid $180,000 to consult for the data-mining company Palantir, which has raised liberal hackles for providing data and surveillance services to law enforcement, including the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Even more troubling, her affiliation with Palantir was the subject of an effort to bury the facts in the memory hole. According to The Intercept, “Haines’s biography page at the Brookings Institute, where she is listed as a nonresident senior fellow, boasted of this affiliation until at least last week, when it suddenly no longer appeared on the page.

“The nature of the consulting work that Haines did for Palantir is not clear. As of press time, requests for comment to her, the Biden campaign, Palantir, and Brookings were not answered. Prior to being removed from the Brookings page, the connection to the data-mining company was listed alongside a long list of other affiliations that were similarly pared down.”

https://theintercept.com/2020/06/26/biden-adviser-avril-haines-palantir/?menu=1

Read more about Amazon’s relationship with Palantir here.

Categories
Amazon/Whole Foods Monopoly Power Surveillance Capitalism

Amazon Wants Skintight Data

Amazon’s new “Halo” wearable device can listen to every word you say, determine your mood, and monitor your sleep.

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/27/opinion/amazon-halo-surveillance.html

NY Times Op Ed EXCERPT:

Halo is Amazon’s attempt to compete with the Apple Watch and Google (which is awaiting approval of its acquisition of Fitbit) in the health-tracking arena. I got on the wait list for it as soon as it was introduced in the summer, and it arrived on Halloween. I strapped on the attractive band and turned on all the intrusive bells and whistles, which Amazon had trumpeted as good for me.

<snip>

The company has been on an endless quest for information about me (and you, too). The device widens the reach of the company’s personal-data grab, adding a user’s body tone and a body-fat analysis to the information it vacuums up, which required photos of me in as pared down a state of dress as possible.

<snip>

Doubling down on owning the consumption grid, Amazon last week announced a major push into the prescription drug arena, since it needs to move into ever bigger markets like health and wellness in order to keep up its explosive growth. The announcement of Amazon Pharmacy to deliver prescription drugs to the home sent the stock prices of drugstore chains crashing. …

In the last few weeks of using Halo, it finally clicked as to why Amazon needs a device that tracks sleep and movement and body fat and even body tone: An Echo is too far away from our bodies, and the consumer goods we order give the company much information about us but not enough. Amazon needs even more, and to be even closer — skintight — to understand the state of me at all times. Then the company can begin to really determine what I might need or want at any moment.

Another link and review:

Amazon Halo Review: The Fitness Gadget We Don’t Deserve or Need – The New York Times (nytimes.com)

Excerpt:

Another of Halo’s unique features is Tone, which uses the bracelet’s microphone to periodically eavesdrop on your conversations to tell you what your mood sounds like. I turned the feature off after two days because it felt like a creepy invasion of privacy. But I left it on long enough to complain to my wife about what a bad idea it was.

After analyzing the conversation, the Halo app said I sounded irritated and disgusted. That, at least, was accurate.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2020/12/10/amazon-halo-band-review/

Excerpt:

The Halo collects the most intimate information we’ve seen from a consumer health gadget — and makes the absolute least use of it.

This wearable is much better at helping Amazon gather data than at helping you get healthy and happy.

Since August, the Halo has been listed by Amazon as an “early access” product that requires an “invitation” to buy. (It will cost $100 plus a $4 monthly fee once it’s sold widely.) We’re reviewing the Halo now because Amazon’s first digital wellness product offers a glimpse of how one of tech’s most influential companies thinks about the future of health. And what could be better to do when we’re lonely during a pandemic than have an always-listening device point out our flaws? Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post, but we review all technology with the same critical eye.

Categories
Amazon/Whole Foods Monopoly Power Labor actions Surveillance Capitalism

Leaks Expose Amazon spying on labor, environmentalists, social movements

https://www.vice.com/en/article/5dp3yn/amazon-leaked-reports-expose-spying-warehouse-workers-labor-union-environmental-groups-social-movements

EXCERPT:

A trove of more than two dozen internal Amazon reports reveal in stark detail the company’s obsessive monitoring of organized labor and social and environmental movements in Europe, particularly during Amazon’s “peak season” between Black Friday and Christmas. The reports, obtained by Motherboard, were written in 2019 by Amazon intelligence analysts who work for the Global Security Operations Center, the company’s security division tasked with protecting Amazon employees, vendors, and assets at Amazon facilities around the world.

The documents show Amazon analysts closely monitor the labor and union-organizing activity of their workers throughout Europe, as well as environmentalist and social justice groups on Facebook and Instagram. They also indicate, and an Amazon spokesperson confirmed, that Amazon has hired Pinkerton operatives—from the notorious spy agency known for its union-busting activities—to gather intelligence on warehouse workers.

Pinkerton’s today: not your grandpa’s detective agency

Internal emails sent to Amazon’s Global Security Operations Center obtained by Motherboard reveal that all the division’s team members around the world receive updates on labor organizing activities at warehouses that include the exact date, time, location, the source who reported the action, the number of participants at an event (and in some cases a turnout rate of those expected to participate in a labor action), and a description of what happened, such as a “strike” or “the distribution of leaflets.”

<snip>

Amazon intelligence analysts appear to gather information on labor organizing and social movements to prevent any disruptions to order fulfillment operations. The new intelligence reports obtained by Motherboard reveal in detail how Amazon uses social media to track environmental activism and social movements in Europe—including Greenpeace and Fridays For Future, environmental activist Greta Thunberg’s global climate strike movement—and perceives such groups as a threat to its operations. In 2019, Amazon monitored the Yellow Vests movement, also known as the gilet jaunes, a grassroots uprising for economic justice that spread across France—and solidarity movements in Vienna and protests against state repression in Iran.

Categories
Surveillance Capitalism

Amazon Adds Illegal Drones to Illegal Ring

https://www.vice.com/en/article/z3vvga/amazons-surveillance-drones-violate-fcc-rules-its-time-to-enforce-them

Excerpt:

The walls may not yet have ears, but nearly everything else in the typical American household does. With digital assistants and a growing list of increasingly invasive “internet of things” devices, we’re constantly being monitored by the likes of Siri, Alexa, Ring, and Google. These constant companions have not only become more prevalent, they’re also becoming more powerful.

Amazon’s newest home spy tool, Ring Always Home Cam, is an indoor camera-enabled drone. The flying robot independently dislodges from its base to investigate noises or periodically patrol your house when it senses no one is home. While a static camera can be controlled, this Ring-enabled drone will use Amazon’s home surveillance platform to record everyone and everything it sees.

We often think of a Big Brother mass-surveillance state being imposed by governments, when in reality we are building it ourselves with the devices we willingly purchase. What many people don’t realize is that these invasive products are already illegal in the US—it’s just that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) hasn’t been enforcing its own rules.

Under an FCC rule from 1989, people are barred from using devices capable of “overhearing or recording the private conversations of others unless such use is authorized by all of the parties engaging in the conversation.” In short: you can’t install your own wiretap.

AUTHORS:

Albert Fox Cahn is the founder and executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (S.T.O.P.) at the Urban Justice Center and a fellow at the Engelberg Center for Innovation Law & Policy at N.Y.U. School of Law.

Evan Greer is an activist, musician, and writer based in Boston. She is the deputy director of the viral digital rights group Fight for the Future, and writes regularly for the Washington Post, The Guardian, Buzzfeed, and Wired.

Categories
Boycott Amazon Campaign Surveillance Capitalism

Ring Doorbells Subject to Recall Over Fire Hazard

In addition to dangers to privacy and  being a step towards a “total surveillance society” hooked into law enforcement, Amazon’s Ring doorbells have been the subject of a recall by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission over a threat of causing fires. Some 350,000 units in the U.S. and 8,700 in Canada are being recalled over fire and burn concerns. The devices were on sale through Amazon’s sites and retail locations.

https://www.cpsc.gov/Recalls/2020/ring-recalls-video-doorbells-2nd-generation-due-to-fire-hazard

According to the CPSC, “This recall involves Ring Video Doorbell (2nd Generation), model number 5UM5E5 smart doorbell cameras.  The video doorbells have a blue ring at the front and come in two color combinations:  (black and silver) and (black and bronze).  They were sold with a mounting bracket and a USB charging cable.  The two-way audio doorbell can be hardwired or battery-powered and supports night vision[Emphasis added.]

“The Ring logo is printed on the bottom front of the doorbell and the model and serial number are on a label on the back of the doorbell and the outer packaging.  Consumers can determine if their doorbell is included in this recall by entering the doorbell’s serial number at http://support.ring.com/ring-2nd-gen-recall. Only Ring Video Doorbell (2nd Generation) models with certain serial numbers are included.”

The recall, joined in by Canada, notes that the doorbells are imported by Ring LLC of Santa Monica, CA from China. Perhaps we should consider Ring of Santa Monica as a site for a protest of Amazon’s surveillance activities and other involvements.

The CSPC advises that: “Consumers should immediately stop installing the recalled video doorbells and contact Ring for revised installation instructions or download them here.  Consumers can check if their video doorbell is part of this recall through Ring’s website or app.”
There have been a number of reported incidents or injuries:

The CSPC says that Ring has received 85 incident reports of incorrect doorbell screws installed with 23 of those doorbells igniting, resulting in minor property damage.  The firm has received eight reports of minor burns.