Amazon Takes Employee Monitoring to the Next Level

NOTE: At some point, before bed, I read through 50+ news sources and share my findings here. If you like it, share it. If you don’t, share it. Follow my blog now to support my work or to find new reasons to complain about it. My opinions are my own. All tips are welcome. And if you have not already, help spread the message that people should be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin.


Did you hear about Microsoft’s email system being hacked? Yikes! I was a bit nervous at first then I remembered that I use Fastmail because of its commitment to security and privacy. I haven’t look back since. Click here to try it free for 30 days.


I talked about “Employee Surveillance” in the past because, like now, I see it as a growing privacy concern. In the never ending quest for workplace efficiency, companies monitor workers to the Nth degree in order to squeeze out as much work output as possible. On the surface, it may sound appealing. However to the worker, its not always an ideal situation.

The Jim Stroud Show – April 2019

Amazon has been on the cutting edge in its pursuit of workplace efficiency, to a fault. The latest iteration was reported on by VICE. Here is a quote:

Amazon delivery drivers nationwide have to sign a “biometric consent” form this week that grants the tech behemoth permission to use AI-powered cameras to access drivers’ location, movement, and biometric data. 

If the company’s delivery drivers, who number around 75,000 in the United States, refuse to sign these forms, they lose their jobs. The form requires drivers to agree to facial recognition and other biometric data collection within the trucks they drive.

Further along in the article it reads:

“Amazon may… use certain Technology that processes Biometric Information, including on-board safety camera technology which collects your photograph for the purposes of confirming your identity and connecting you to your driver account,” the form reads. “Using your photograph, this Technology, may create Biometric Information, and collect, store, and use Biometric Information from such photographs.”

It adds that “this Technology tracks vehicle location and movement, including miles driven, speed, acceleration, braking, turns, and following distance …as a condition of delivery packages for Amazon, you consent to the use of Technology.”

There have been more than a few privacy concerns. Some of them from the US Senate. To quote CNBC.

Five senators are calling on Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to provide more information on the company’s recent deployment of “surveillance cameras” in vehicles used by contracted delivery drivers.

In a letter Wednesday, Sens. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut asked for more clarity on Amazon’s use of footage collected by the cameras and the scope of their use, with a deadline for Bezos to respond by March 24.

The letter was in response to reporting by CNBC in February, which revealed that Amazon recently began rolling out cameras from Netradyne in vehicles at a handful of contracted delivery partners across the U.S. The cameras, which Amazon said record drivers “100% of the time,” have four lenses that capture the road, the driver, and both sides of the vehicle. The cameras are equipped with software that’s capable of flagging a series of safety infractions, including failure to stop at a stop sign, speeding and distracted driving.

In a training video distributed to delivery firms, Amazon said the cameras will help improve safety across its delivery network, but drivers and privacy advocates raised concerns about the potential for heightened employee surveillance and a lack of privacy.

Some Amazon delivery drivers do not appreciate this added layer of efficiency and some are quitting their jobs because of it. Here is a quote from Business Insider.

He started work in 2019 and saw Amazon’s policies change to include more active means of surveillance. First there was an app tracking his route. Then the company wanted pictures of him at the beginning of each shift on another app, he told the foundation.

But the breaking point came, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, when Amazon announced it would be installing AI cameras in its fleet of vehicles.

Insider reported in February that Amazon was equipping all delivery vehicles with an AI camera system called Driveri, which is manufactured by a company called Netradyne. The cameras are always on and scan drivers’ body language and the speed of the vehicle, detect if a driver is wearing a seatbelt, and even measure drowsiness. The system then uses “automated verbal alerts” to tell drivers if a violation has been detected.

When Amazon announced the policy change and gave its drivers a deadline to agree to the surveillance protocols, Vic told Thomson Reuters Foundation that he decided to put in his notice.

“It was both a privacy violation, and a breach of trust,” he told the foundation. He also said the company requiring drivers to agree to constant surveillance to do their jobs seemed like “a sort of coercion.”

Amazon has faced scrutiny before because of its surveillance of customers as well as its workers. According to VICE, “at least 200 law enforcement agencies around the country have entered into partnerships with Amazon’s home surveillance company Ring.” For some, this constitutes a “surveillance empire” where Amazon and police can monitor homes via their RING system and quite possibly now via truck delivery cameras. Click here to read the security and privacy concerns surrounding this alliance. But, I digress.

Amazon is by no means the only company to take the pursuit of efficiency to the Nth degree. According to CNet, Apple has been walking a compliance tightrope on the issue.

Apple recently banned its manufacturing partners from collecting facial recognition scans and the fingerprint data of Apple employees who visit manufacturing facilities, according to a Wednesday report by The Information. Citing an internal Apple document it reviewed, the outlet also reports that the new privacy rule does not apply to the more than 1 million factory workers who make Apple’s products. 

The internal document is reportedly part of Apple’s new security protocols aimed at reducing intellectual property theft, and also includes a mandated increase in surveillance camera use at manufacturing facilities, along with upgrades to component tracking systems that monitor Apple hardware during production. The document requires manufacturers to conduct criminal background checks on factory workers as well. 

So, where are all of these new incarnations of employee surveillance heading? I think towards a major employee revolt, unless the company can prove such measures are beneficial to the worker. Accenture proved this with a survey they conducted in 2019. Here’s a quote:

Among the key findings: While more than six in 10 C-level executives (62 percent) said that their organizations are using new technologies to collect data on their people and their work to gain more actionable insights — from the quality of work and the way people collaborate to their safety and well-being — fewer than one-third (30 percent) are very confident that they are using the data responsibly.

In addition, more than half (52 percent) of workers think that the use of new sources of workforce data risks damaging trust, and 64 percent said that recent scandals over the misuse of data makes them concerned that their employee data might be at risk too. The good news is that 92 percent of workers are open to the collection of data on them and their work, but only if it improves their performance or well-being or provides other personal benefits. More than six in 10 workers (62 percent) would exchange their work-related data for more-customized compensation, rewards and benefits, and 61 percent would do so for more customized learning and development opportunities.

I think companies will always push the envelope on employee surveillance because who doesn’t want a well run company? I think what gets companies, especially big tech companies, in hot water is when they start treating their workers like machine parts instead of people. So, in this regard, I offer Amazon (and other big tech companies) some free advice that they will likely ignore.

  • Whatever your next efficiency technology is, do not force your employees to comply to it. Offer them clearly defined benefits for opting in and the more pervasive the initiative, the higher the reward.
  • Clearly spell out what information you are collecting, how it will be be used and who will have access to it.
  • Every employee should have access to any information collected on them. Workers should have the right to dispute what has been collected, in the event of a discrepancy.
  • Put a time limit on how long the data can be stored and update the employee once its done.
  • Do not rely solely on a machine when making choices about your workers. Take it into consideration, of course, but no machine is perfect and should never supersede human wisdom.

To all big tech employees I wish you well. Protect your privacy. Who knows how far your data will go?

Jim

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This is why companies do not give job applicants feedback…

NOTE: At some point, before bed, I read through 50+ news sources and share my findings here. If you like it, share it. If you don’t, share it. Follow my blog now to support my work or to find new reasons to complain about it. My opinions are my own. All tips are welcome. And if you have not already, help spread the message that people should be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin.

The other day, someone asked me this question via LinkedIn, “Do you think companies should give more feedback to candidates after interviews?” At this writing, I noticed that the comments were from the perspective of the jobseeker. Understandably, everyone who interviews for a job wants to know the “real deal” on why they were rejected. More often than not, they receive a form letter that says (in so many words) thanks but no thanks, we hired someone else. I thought such was a prudent course of action. Why? Speaking from the employer’s perspective, I said that individual feedback is less likely to be offered to the applicant for a variety of reasons.

  1. They don’t want to get trapped in an unending argument with candidates who will not accept the comment gracefully.
  2. Something meant as constructive feedback is misconstrued and posted on social media and used as an excuse to cancel the company.
  3. They don’t hire candidate because of X and when they make a hire, behold they have X and the person who did not get the job is of another race and as a result, disparages the company on social media.

And on and on…

If a company gives the same polite and terse response to every candidate, it’s safe and less likely to cause drama. That being said, candidates would benefit from feedback. They should quietly receive it when given to them. Companies open themselves to liabilities when they offer it.

I offered that bit of insight yesterday and today, I read an article validating my position. This was the headline, “FACEBOOK TOLD BLACK APPLICANT WITH PH.D. SHE NEEDED TO SHOW SHE WAS A “CULTURE FIT” And here are a few notable quotes:

A BLACK WOMAN passed over for a job at Facebook told federal regulators that even though she was exceptionally qualified for the position, she was rushed through interviews with entirely white staffers, told she wouldn’t like the job, and advised that the company wanted a strong “culture fit,” according to a complaint to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission provided to The Intercept.

The woman joins three others who have recently complained to the EEOC about anti-Black racism at Facebook. The agency has begun conducting a “systemic” probe of Facebook, looking into whether the company’s own policies further discrimination, Reuters reported earlier this month.

The article reads on to say, and I’m paraphrasing:

  • The complaint could not have come at a worse time since Silicon Valley companies are mostly White and Asian.
  • Google and Facebook have been hit a lot lately for their alleged discriminatory hiring practices. Like de-prioritizing HBCU candidates and suggesting that people who complain about racism seek mental health care.
  • The woman with the complaint said she was “subjected to Facebook’s pattern or practice of discrimination against Black applicants.” She further stated that her experience and education were brought up only in an early interview with the position’s hiring manager, who she alleges told her, “You have a big brain, you wouldn’t like this job.”
  • The complaint notes that the applicant wasn’t interviewed by a single person of color and that the “only Black Facebook employee [she] encountered during the entire hiring process was a receptionist.”
  • She further alleges that during one of the in-person interviews in California, she was told, “There’s no doubt you can do the job, but we’re really looking for a culture fit.

Do big tech companies like Facebook and Google regularly discriminate against blacks? I don’t know. I was not there in the recruitment process. However, it does seem that those companies have left themselves vulnerable. Telling a candidate that they did not get the job due to “culture fit” was not a wise move as such cannot be easily quantified outside of gut instinct. The fact that she was one of several people going after Facebook is not a good look either because it does suggest a pattern. I was not surprised that she saw so few black people in her interview process because the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley offices is not a secret. The fact that she was rushed through an interview process after waiting so long does not register to me as discrimination so much as it does mismanagement of their interview process. The “big brain” comment could have been an attempt at levity, not sure there. All that being said, the odds seem to be heavily in the applicant’s favor. Facebook and Google better call Saul Goodman.

As I read that article, my initial reaction was half-outrage and half-eye rolling. My outrage was around how big tech companies virtue signal constantly about matters of racial equity. Was this a glaring example of their own hypocrisy? And on the other hand, in this hyper polarized world of cancel culture, everything is racist.

It made me wonder, has there been a spike in discrimination cases filed with the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission)? For those who don’t know, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, transgender status, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. Curiosity got the best of me so, I did some research.

I wanted to know which states had the most EEOC filings and discovered this chart that was posted on The National Law Review website. Presumably, California would be at the top of the list with Silicon Valley’s diversity issues. Surprisingly, to me, Texas held the #1 position.

Interesting, but it did not answer my initial concern. Had there been a spike in EEOC complaints to correlate with all the political polarization these days? I found my answers on the website JDSupra, a source of legal intelligence on a variety of topics. A few insights:

EEOC Logged Fewer Cases Under President Trump

Employees filed fewer discrimination claims with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in fiscal year 2020 than any year since at least 1992. The COVID-19 pandemic might have contributed, but the 2020 EEOC charges continued an annual decline seen throughout Donald Trump’s presidency.

Sexual Harassment Cases Were Also Down Under President Trump

In 2020:

Claims of sex-based harassment fell to 11,497, down 11.9% from the FY 2018 peak sparked by the #MeToo movement. That number includes all charges alleging harassment based related to one’s sex (treating people of one sex less favorably than others). The EEOC separately tracks harassment of a sexual nature. Charges alleging harassment of a sexual nature also fell to the lowest level in many years. The EEOC received 6,587 such charges in FY 2020, down 13.4% from 2018, and 17.1% from 2010.

Trends since 2016

FY 2016 ended September 30th of that year. Donald Trump was elected in November 2016, and became President on January 20, 2017. Total EEOC charges fell each year of the Trump Administration, after fluctuating but staying relatively flat during President Obama’s two terms.

So, why the decline of discrimination cases (and sexual harassment cases, for that matter) under the Trump administration verses all other recent Presidents? The researchers speculated but could not give a definitive answer. Maybe the EEOC operated differently under Trump than with other Presidents? Maybe more people opted to file with the States instead of seeking to make a Federal case? Maybe overall, employment discrimination itself is declining?

The article went on to compare EEOC filings under Bush (an average of 80,000 charges per year) and Clinton (there was a 21.6% uptick before settling down to the 80K range in his 2nd term). However, I thought what was most revealing is this comment…

When more employees lose their jobs and have no alternative source of income, discrimination claims are apt to rise.

This resonated with me. Under President Trump, prior to the Coronavirus, the economy was operating at record levels. Clinton had a booming economy for a season but, it was well into recession when Bush took over. Such being the case, companies would do well to insure that their hiring and workplace practices are fair at all times and especially during a recession. Not doing so could cost them dearly in finances and employer brand; just ask Facebook and Google.

Wow! That was a long rant. Please share my newsletter with your network. Its good for the environment. Just kidding, but share all the same. Please and thank you.

Google, don’t be evil! Too late…

Google Dragonfly

Google’s motto used to be “Don’t Be Evil” but, they removed it.
I don’t know why. Maybe its because of projects like Dragonfly.
Dragonfly is a search engine made for China. At the request of
the Chinese government, some info will be blocked from
Chinese citizens.

I think that’s evil. Other people do too. Among them, Google’s
own employees. Some people have even quit Google over it.

I plan on quitting Google because of Dragonfly and other things.
I’m not going to do it all at once. It will be gradual. The first
thing I will do is list all of their “free” products I am using.
The second thing is to seek out alternatives, especially those
that are more privacy conscious, and move forward with them.

I will likely not stop using Google overnight. However, I will
immediately reduce its influence in my personal life by
using it only for work-related stuff. Care to join me?

Google alternatives I am reviewing and/or now using.

Instead of Google Chrome
# Brave | I use it now.  I love it.
# Vivaldi | I use it now. I love it.
# Firefox
# Maxthon

Instead of Google Search
# DuckDuckGo | I use it. I love it.
# Yandex
# Qwant
# Startpage

Instead of Gmail
# Protonmail
# Mailfence
# Tutanota
# Mailbox

Instead of Google Plus
# MeWe
# Gab
# Diaspora

Instead of YouTube
# Real.video
# Vimeo

If you know of any other tools I should be using, please do let me know in the comments below. Thanks in advance.

Jim