Privacy in the Workplace? Don’t expect it!

As if we have a choice!

One night at my job I recently noticed that the security cameras in the break room didn’t have their usual red light on. I checked closer and sure enough it didn’t seem to be active. Curious, I went to switch off some lights through the breakers and sure enough, the red light came back on.

I’m sure it looked weird on the security cameras itself. I was in the room one moment, looking suspiciously at the camera and then I suddenly left, turned the lights off, came back in, looked at the camera again and then left, turned the lights back on and came back again. Inconspicuous as heck!

Thankfully my manager never looked at this clip, they’d have to rifle through many hours of overnight footage just to see this vaguely odd occurrence. And they don’t check the cameras unless something concretely wrong happens overnight, usually with the dogs. That’s what got me removed from the overnight position at one point. I had been asleep and a dog tore up a door because they were upset. Never mind that the dog would have been able to tear it up whether I was awake or not (I’m a few rooms away from where the dogs are, in the “break room”) and they were not hurt in any discernible way. I was still blamed and relocated to another position.

These violations of my privacy don’t matter at my workplace and it’s been long established by the law that employees have few (if any) rights to privacy in the workplace. Whether that’s through more conventional approaches like surveillance cameras, using delegated managers to report on you or even enlisting co-workers against you. Whatever gets the job done to make sure the job gets done, even if it’s invasive as fuck.

I had heard at one point that the cameras were supposed to be taken out. One of my co-workers claimed it was an OSHA violation of some kind though at the time I was skeptical of that. As it turns out, it depends on your state and the one I live in (New Hampshire) it’s apparently the case that locker rooms are not a place where employers can spy on employees. But of course, my employers don’t call it a locker room (even though it has lockers!), they call it a “break room” which maybe gets them off the hook?

Who knows!

What I do know is that this shit that happened last year through Amazon goes way beyond any of what I just discussed:

Amazon has patented designs for a wristband that can precisely track where warehouse employees are placing their hands and use vibrations to nudge them in a different direction.

Imagine being so insecure about your position of power and ability so that you literally need to control your employees hands. You need to jolt them so they’ ll listen to you and do whatever you want. If you believe that Amazon has the right to jolt people just because it increases economic efficiency then you’re probably also okay with what I talked about before. Maybe you think it should go even further and more private areas should have cameras. But either way, this is where the principle of employees having little bargaining power goes. This is the eventual result of the capitalist system: A system where we have not only little power but little privacy.

And even if you think this is a good idea I wouldn’t trust a company with a track record like Amazon’s with a good idea:

Amazon already has a reputation for turning low-paid staff into “human robots” – working alongside thousands of proper robots – carrying out repetitive packaging tasks as fast as possible in an attempt to hit goals set by handheld computers.

In 2016, a BBC investigation found that agency workers making Amazon deliveries reported defecating in bags, speeding and falling asleep at the wheel as they desperately tried to hit ambitious delivery targets issued by an Amazon logistics app.

I feel like I don’t need to belabor the point about Amazon in 2019. It’s widely regarded as a horrible place to work, its warehouses especially. And devices like this only make workers even more micromanaged than they already are by management. A micromanaging environment that makes people shit on the floor (definitely not getting swifty) and come home exhausted and defeated about their lives, often for meager pay.

GeekWire tries to give us a silver lining:

Amazon, like many companies, routinely files high-tech patents exploring the frontiers of technology. As we’ve pointed out previously, many of those patents undergo significant refinement before a product is brought to market, and many more never come to fruition. For example, there are no smartphone airbag systems or drone-dispensing airship warehouses on the horizon. So breathe easy: Amazon won’t be using wristbands to track employees’ bathroom breaks anytime soon..

But this isn’t much of a silver lining at all! If we have a system whereby mega corporations can actually attempt to make dystopian shit like this a reality and actually have a chance to not be laughed off like the total fascists they are, then what the fuck are we doing as a society?

I know I’m making some strong claims here, but it doesn’t take much to see that Amazon wants as much control over its workers as possible, so long as the efficacy of the product is improved, they could care less about their workers. And it’s their workers after all, right?

There’s actually a whole article and an official statement about whether a hand-tracking device that tracks your own body on the merchandise floor is a privacy violation at all. The Guardian article I mentioned earlier in this blog says the “not-so generous interpretation” is to make the same sort of criticisms of Amazon, as if Amazon really deserves generosity!

No, Amazon has long outlived generosity, especially with shit like:

“The speculation about this patent is misguided. Every day at companies around the world, employees use handheld scanners to check inventory and fulfill orders. This idea, if implemented in the future, would improve the process for our fulfillment associates. By moving equipment to associates’ wrists, we could free up their hands from scanners and their eyes from computer screens.”

Gosh, where to start?

How about with the fact that those handheld scanners don’t literally track your hands or what you are doing? Or what about the fact that people’s privacy and autonomy is more important than your profits? And finally, it might be worthwhile to examine the language of “free up” here which implies that Amazon is actually doing a service for their workers by micromanaging their behavior even closer than they did before.

Because that definitely won’t lead to any more stress!.

You know what would actually free up Amazon’s workers?

Unionizing, seizing the means of production and abolishing intellectual property while we’re at it. This shit’s gotta stop.


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