“Dystopian” is probably not the word Alexa would use to describe Amazon’s recently approved patents for a wristband that would possibly track warehouse workers’ movements, but it is what some news outlets have used when reporting on the inherent privacy concerns.
As first reported by GeekWire, Amazon won two patents for the wristband in September after submitting them in 2016. The New York Times reports that it’s not clear if the company intends to use the technology on their own employees. The Times summarizes the company’s vision.
“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.”
According to Amazon, the intention of the patent is to streamline “time consuming” tasks and guide the employees to work faster.
As expected, there are great privacy and security concerns. Again, per The Times, critics contend that there would be greater workplace surveillance and employees would be treated more like robots than humans.
Not so, says Amazon in a statement to The Verge:
“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.
Like most companies, we have performance expectations for every Amazon employee and we measure actual performance against those expectations, and they are not designed to track employees or limit their abilities to take breaks.”
As The Times pointed out in its report, while the debate rages on around tracking technology, 50 of 80 employees at Three Square Market in Wisconsin volunteered to have microchips implanted under their skin in order to “seamlessly” use the company’s services. Dystopian or convenient?
Speaking of time, it won’t be long before it’s known if Amazon will use this technology in-house and what other companies will be eager to acquire it too.