Illustration by Neyva Hernandez

Amazon’s Electronic Bracelets

Amazon recently released wristbands that track each and every employee’s movement. Is this just an effort to streamline production, or and perhaps something more insidious?

Feb 10, 2018

Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, has transformed the digital age by introducing methods of monitoring and delivering customers’ purchases. Amazon suggests what you should buy, and then conveniently ships it to your doorstep in less than twenty-four hours. After revolutionizing the marketing channel, Bezos now wants to speed up his employees by helping them locate inventory more efficiently. Bezos plans to accomplish this by having employees wear an ultrasonic wristband able to guide them, by means of vibration, towards the desired package. The patent for the innovative wristband was recently approved and is now ready to be implemented. This incredible innovation sounds like a science-fiction dream come true, but in reality the implications of this sort of tracking may prove more suspect.
There seems to be no apparent ethical concern in Amazon’s innovation. Like other creative entrepreneurs, Bezos is experimenting with new methods that, if proven successful, would hasten the company’s service and ease employees’ lives. In fact, my preoccupation does not originate from the wristband itself, but from the numerous functions that this object may serve. The ultrasonic wristband is endowed with sensors that can monitor wearers’ hand motions. These sensors even pick up on non-work-related movement. If an employee has an itching scalp and chooses to ease the nuisance by scratching his head, the wristband is able to detect that movement. This represents a very intimate tracking of human movement.
Unless there is a hair lice outbreak inside the plant, I am certain that none of Amazon’s highly skilled managers care about an employee scratching their head. However, the risk that comes with being able to monitor each employee’s movement is that the wristband becomes an object to control the employee’s performance and behavior rather than one to facilitate their work. Thanks to the wristband’s groundbreaking technology, managers are now gifted with precious information that can guarantee them evidence when criticizing the under average performance of an employee. They could accuse employees of unnecessary movements that deplete the efficiency of output.
Employees scratching their heads could become a matter of managerial discussions. This kind of working environment is representative of modern-day slavery and not of an innovative workplace. An innovative workplace should take into account employees’ privacy and not mess around with them to simply increase efficiency.
It can be said that, given the rapidity and magnitude of technological change, the wristband is an innovation that Amazon must neither ignore nor be afraid to use. In a capitalist society where the biggest reward is assigned to the quickest and most efficient firm, Amazon cannot risk losing to a more cold-hearted firm. However, there is a fine line between being a competitive firm and an unethical one. In order to protect employees’ privacy while incentivizing a positive working environment, the wristband must be used with extreme care. The wristband should exclusively serve the purpose of facilitating employees searching for packages and should not serve as a managerial tool to extract information on their performance. To this end, governments also have an essential role in ensuring that Amazon’s plants follow ethical procedures.
As Amazon moves forward with its technological advances, both within the company and in its consumer products, we should remember to keep a critical eye on. Development does not always mean change in the right direction; as technology moves into uncharted ethical territories we must diligently question companies on their treatment of employees with regards to these advancements.
Andrea Arletti is Opinion Deputy. Email hin at
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