As Amazon continues on its path toward global dominance of online retail, a new and possibly disturbing development has come to light: the company might soon be able to track its employees' every move, thanks to a new wristband Amazon has designed.
What if your employer made you wear a wristband that tracked your every move, and that even nudged you via vibrations when it judged that you were doing something wrong?
What if your supervisor could identify every time you paused to scratch or fidget, and for how long you took a bathroom break?
Amazon is one step closer to creating such a reality for its employees. The company recently won two patents for such a device, though it remains unclear when or if it could begin manufacturing or using the wristband.
Despite privacy concerns or the potential for workplace abuses, Amazon says its goal is to increase productivity and nothing else.
In theory, Amazon’s proposed technology would emit ultrasonic sound pulses and radio transmissions to track where an employee’s hands were in relation to inventory bins, and provide “haptic feedback” to steer the worker toward the correct bin.
But is the increased efficiency worth the likely unintended consequences?
Critics say such wristbands raise concerns about privacy and would add a new layer of surveillance to the workplace, and that the use of the devices could result in employees being treated more like robots than human beings.
It is no secret that employees of Amazon already are pushed hard to meet strict standards, often to the detriment of those working the warehouses:
Max Crawford, a former Amazon warehouse worker in Britain, said in a phone interview, “After a year working on the floor, I felt like I had become a version of the robots I was working with.”
“There was no time to go to the loo,” he said, using the British slang for toilet. “You had to process the items in seconds and then move on. If you didn’t meet targets, you were fired.”
Whether or not the wristband technology sees its way to Amazon warehouses remains unknown, but as the Times notes, it would not be the first time a company wandered into the realm of tracking employee behavior with new technology.
One company in London is developing artificial intelligence systems to flag unusual workplace behavior, while another used a messaging application to track its employees.
In Wisconsin, a technology company called Three Square Market offered employees an opportunity to have microchips implanted under their skin in order, it said, to be able to use its services seamlessly.