Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.
For all the convenience it offers, I’m beginning to wonder whether my Prime membership is actually worth it. The cost seems to go up every year. And every year, the delivery promises seem to become a little more erratic.
And then there’s some of Amazon’s other knee-jerky quirks.
I’ve written previously about how its allegedly smart doorbell product Ring has more than a ring of surveillance society around it. Reports have multiplied, describing how Ring worked with police forces to give people free doorbell camera systems, with the small codicil that the police can demand any footage from them at any time.
Now, however, an Amazon employee has offered a disturbing thought about the true nature of these doorbells.
Tucked away in a Medium article from the Amazon Employees For Climate Justice was a comment from one of the company’s software development engineers, Max Eliaser.
The deployment of connected home security cameras that allow footage to be queried centrally are simply not compatible with a free society. The privacy issues are not fixable with regulation and there is no balance that can be struck. Ring should be shut down immediately and not brought back.
It’s quite something when an employee publicly excoriates a company’s product, to the point of declaring it’s simply a spying tool, one that threatens a free society.
It’s especially troubling, given all the recent publicity — none of it pretty — that has chimed around Ring’s doorbells.
For an employee to essentially warn Amazon’s customers that they are being surveilled, you might imagine there’d be consequences.
Naturally, I asked Amazon for its view and will update, should I ever hear.
I suspect quite a few companies might look on words such as Eliaser’s, immediately contact HR and have him fired.
I wonder, though, whether the constant concerns about Ring and now the open criticism from an employee might cause Amazon to reconsider its aims and methods of doing business.
Oddly, here’s what happened just a few days after Eliaser’s comments were published.
One of its new features involves the ability to “opt out of receiving video request notifications when local police seek information related to an investigation.”
That, to some eyes, may be a start — or even a swift reaction to Eliaser’s comments. Many might want to believe that an employee’s strong words could bring some positive reaction.
Sadly, this new control center only gives customers the option to opt out, rather than have the default set the other way around. It does, though, at least inform customers which police departments have joined the Ring Neighbors app and therefore are more likely to make requests.
Ring did insist that “this is just the beginning. Future versions of Control Center will provide users the ability to view and control even more privacy and security features.”
But customers will still, no doubt, have to make the effort themselves.
Perhaps this might change a little. Perhaps one of its own employees publicly calling for a clearly intrusive product to be shut down startled the company.
Some might worry, though, that ultimately Amazon — in concert with many other tech companies — believes customers are perfectly willing to allow the surveillance state to happen because they’re too hooked on convenience and on any technology that allows them to make less effort.
Until, that is, they’re caught on a neighbor’s Ring doorbell camera and accused of doing something wrong.
Published on: Feb 2, 2021
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.