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Amazon System to Track Workers Raises Surveillance Concerns (Video)

by
Eric Ortiz
Managing Editor
Eric Ortiz is the managing editor of Truthdig. A journalist and innovator with two decades in digital media, Ortiz founded the mobile app startup Evrybit, a live storytelling and reporting tool, as a 2014 John…
Eric Ortiz

Remember when novels such as "1984" and "Brave New World" were futuristic cautionary tales? Not everyone may have heeded the warnings.

Amazon has been granted a pair of patents for wristbands. Warehouse workers would wear the wristbands to help guide their hands, provide feedback and track the location of products in real time. The company claims the wearable devices will boost productivity, but the idea of tracking worker movements has raised surveillance concerns.

"It could impact employee anxiety, morale and overall work culture," Kate Bischoff, owner of tHRive, an employment law and human resources consulting firm, told CNN.

Amazon has a reputation for difficult working conditions in its warehouses.

The Verge reports:

While the patent describes this tech as a time-saving system, tracking workers in this way seems dystopian. That’s especially true for Amazon, a company that has been accused of enforcing intolerable conditions at its warehouses, like timed toilet breaks, 55-hour work weeks, and packing timers that ensure a worker is packing enough boxes per hour. In January 2017, Amazon said it planned to hire 100,000 more workers, with the majority of postings for warehouse jobs.

Amazon submitted both patents to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 2016, and they were published in early February. One patent is for an "ultrasonic bracelet and receiver for detecting position in 2D plane." The other is for "adaptive battery management." The company has not said when the devices will be implemented and downplayed negative speculation.

"This idea, if implemented in the future, would improve the process for our fulfillment associates," Amazon said in a statement to NPR. "By moving equipment to associates' wrists, we could free up their hands from scanners and their eyes from computer screens."

Watch Ana Kasparian and Cenk Uygur, the hosts of "The Young Turks," discuss the new technology in the video above.

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