Sci-Tech

New revelations about Amazon’s surveillance practices

On November 23, 2020, Motherboard announced that Amazon was monitoring the union activities of its workers, environmental activists, and social movements such as Gilets Jaunes. The point of sale relies on more than two dozen 2019 documents sourced from Amazon’s global security operations center.

Examination of these documents reveals a collaboration between Amazon and Pinkerton, an American agency founded in 1850 that provides security and surveillance services. This collaboration was confirmed by a spokeswoman for Amazon, Lisa Levandowski, who at the same time refused to use agents on site.

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However, a document shows that a Pinkertons, as the agency’s detectives were called, broke into a Polish warehouse in Wroclaw. This infiltration follows allegations against an officer who allegedly helped recruit candidates and who even passed them in their place. A report confirms the intervention, but indicates that this suspicion turned out to be false: “The Pinkerton agents have been admitted to WRO1 ADECCO [ndlr : nom de l’entrepôt situé à Wroclaw] between 19/11/2019 and 21/11/2019. No identifiable evidence of coaching by recruiters was observed. “

Pinkerton is known for her support for bosses, sometimes with questionable methods. This was the case in 1892 during the strike at the homestead that resulted in a shooting and the deaths of several agents and strikers.

UNI Global Union calls on the European Commission to investigate “potentially illegal activities”.

Jeff Bezos’ company systematically monitors thefts, customs offenses, drug trafficking, the risk of terrorist acts, but also the operating environment of the locations where it is established. The latter term implies various situations, such as demonstrations, the number of employees attending union meetings, or dissatisfaction with working conditions. According to emails researched by Vice, some Amazon employees regularly receive information about union activities. These indicate the date, time, place, number of participants, a description of the event – for example “strike” or “distribution of leaflets” – or the source from which the facts became known. In France, an email sent on March 10, 2020 stated that “two members of the CGT Amazon employees were handing out leaflets in front of turnstiles” in a warehouse in Amiens. The email indicates the time of the incident, when it was reported, the person who reported it and the outcome of the case: “The distribution of the leaflets has ended and the activists have left the site. without any impact on operations ”.

UNI Global Union, an international trade union federation, said in a statement sent to Figaro on November 24, 2020 that Amazon is “spying on workers”. Since September 30, 2020, UNI Global Union, which represents 7 million European workers, has asked the European Commission to investigate these “potentially illegal activities”, the association said. Stefan Clauwaert, a researcher at the European Trade Union Institute, told Vice that these activities violate European laws, including the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The GDPR requires everyone to be informed about the collection and processing of their personal data and therefore makes certain Amazon practices illegal. This monitoring also does not meet the standards of the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the European Social Charter of the Council of Europe.

“Our fight is paying off”

Vice’s investigation also shows that Amazon’s vigilance would be heightened during “high season,” the time between Black Friday and Christmas. Last year in France, on the occasion of Black Friday, several associations such as Youth for Climate, Extinction Rebellion (XR), Greenpeace or Alternatiba ANV Rhône joined forces in militant actions, some of which were disobedient. bourgeois, especially near Paris, Lyon and Douai.

The photo shows an act of civil disobedience carried out by several associations, including XR and Alternatiba ANV Rhône. Source: Alternatiba ANV Rhône

In addition, the e-commerce market leader keeps an eye on social networks, in particular the Facebook and Instagram pages of Greenpeace and Fridays for Futur, the global strike movement initiated by Greta Thunberg. A source who claimed anonymity explained these practices to Vice: “When this team was monitoring people, they were using fake social media accounts. They used a fake name and profile with no photo. The worst part was that they read tons of conversations and messages and knew everything about these people’s privacy. They knew if they were having a bad day with their family. “

In the face of these allegations of monitoring environmental groups, Lisa Levandowski exonerated Amazon on the grounds that “like most companies, we have a team that is responsible for anticipating external events such as weather, power outages or large gatherings such as concerts or demonstrations that disrupt traffic or could affect the security of our buildings and the people who work there. “

“It is worrying for the democratic functioning, but it is not surprising to know Amazon,” said Siècle Digital Alex Montvernay, activist of Alternatiba ANV Rhône, the revelations of Vice. To know that he is being watched by Amazon sounds like a victory to him: “Our fight is paying off, and that is reassuring for us”. He has been an activist for several years and notices a growing interest in the fight against the model proposed by Amazon in particular. As proof of this he saw the round table organized by Alternatiba ANV Rhône on November 24, 2020 on Facebook Live: “Amazon: Local Danger, Global Threat”. This brought the president of the Confédération des Commerçants de France, Francis Palombi, the spokesman for the Confédération Paysanne, Nicolas Girod, as well as the campaign manager for Friends of the Earth, Alma Dufour, and Emeline Baume, the deputy vice-president for economy, employment, commerce, digital and public Shopping in the Métropole de Lyon. Finally, French MEP Leïla Chaibi, who wrote a letter to Jeff Bezos, co-signed by 37 members of the European Parliament, about the excesses of Amazon’s surveillance, also attended the association’s event.

The CGT is known as an “anarcho-syndicalist” group

The same anonymous source says the yellow vest protests have sparked increased surveillance. His words are backed up by an internal document, analyzed by Vice, which states: “Demonstrations are planned in Paris on December 7th, both by members of the striking unions and by the yellow vests. In Bercy, a march in yellow vests is planned at 11:30 a.m. to Porte de Versailles via Austerlitz, Denfert, Place de la Catalogne and Porte de Vanves. It is not certain that the striking unions will take part in the same march organized by the yellow vests, but they are expected to join from Montparnasse. “

However, as the Polish example shows, this monitoring has its shortcomings. In France, the DIF4 warehouse in the Paris region was classified as “moderately” endangered due to its operating environment. In an October 2019 report, Amazon found that there was no union present, but indicated that “anarcho-syndicalist” groups like the CGT have “tried in the past to get the support of employees based in Paris”. He also noted that “such campaigns are rare, limited in scope and ultimately unsuccessful”. Two months later, in December 2019, employees in cooperation with the CGT cut off the power supply to the warehouse for 8 hours. Several empty trucks got stuck on the highway. While Amazon’s analysis contains inaccuracies, it does not mean that the situation is not alarming: “Amazon and Jeff Bezos are behaving as if they are above the law for having amassed unprecedented wealth and power. This has to stop, ”warns MEP Manon Aubry.

Despite all her allegations, Lisa Levandowski says Amazon does not use its partners to “gather information about employees in its warehouses”. All activities we conduct are fully compliant with local laws and are carried out with the knowledge and support of the local authorities. “The company justified this monitoring by saying that it” highlights the risks and potential risks that may affect Amazon’s operations in order to meet customer expectations. ” It is therefore likely, in order to address this issue, that the company posted two vacancies in its global security operations center – which includes former intelligence service soldiers – in September 2020 to monitor “threats from workers’ organizations”. For these positions, proficiency in a second language such as French, Spanish or Arabic and Mandarin was strongly recommended, which implies worldwide surveillance. After generating a “bad sum”, these indicators were removed. According to Vice, in Europe the center is mainly aimed at France, the UK, Italy, Spain, Germany, Poland, Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

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