Amazon is facing a €32 million fine (around £27 million) from France’s data protection agency, CNIL, for what has been deemed “excessive” surveillance of its workers. The allegations include illegal measures taken to record data captured by workers’ handheld scanners in a highly precise manner. CNIL’s investigation found that Amazon’s tracking of employee activities could lead to workers having to justify each break. The online shopping giant has been accused of breaching the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in multiple areas, including the implementation of an illegal system that triggers alerts for various activities. One alert, for example, is triggered if an item is scanned too quickly or less than 1.25 seconds after scanning another item, increasing the risk of errors. Other alerts focus on breaks, with one signalling breaks of 10 minutes or more and another tracking breaks between one and 10 minutes. The CNIL has also questioned Amazon’s need to retain workers’ data for 31 days. The data watchdog found that Amazon’s practices were “excessively intrusive” and could lead to workers having to justify even brief interruptions in scanning.
This development follows an investigation by the Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy Committee in the UK, which raised concerns about Amazon’s surveillance technology and its impact on workers. In November 2022, Brian Palmer, Amazon’s Europe policy chief, told a parliamentary select committee that employees with three productivity flags on the system could be fired. The committee’s subsequent report highlighted concerns about Amazon’s surveillance practices leading to “distrust, micromanagement, and, in some cases, disciplinary action against its workers.” The report also raised concerns about the undue stress placed on the workforce due to surveillance technology. Amazon has not commented on its UK warehouses in response to this recent CNIL ruling.
Amazon strongly disagrees with CNIL’s findings and has indicated that it reserves the right to file an appeal against the fine. The company defended its warehouse management systems, stating that they are industry-standard and necessary for ensuring safety, quality, and operational efficiency. The spokesperson argued that warehouse management systems are crucial for tracking inventory storage and package processing accurately and in line with customer expectations. Amazon has faced criticism over its treatment of workers, and the fine from CNIL adds to the scrutiny over the company’s labor practices. As workplace surveillance becomes a prominent issue, this case highlights the need for companies to balance operational efficiency with respecting employee privacy rights and complying with data protection regulations.
While Amazon’s fine specifically relates to its operations in France, it raises broader questions about the impact of surveillance practices on workers globally. The use of technology to monitor and manage employee performance has become increasingly prevalent in various industries, raising concerns about worker privacy, stress levels, and the potential for unfair treatment. As companies strive to optimize efficiency and productivity, they must navigate the ethical and legal considerations associated with workplace surveillance. Striking the right balance between maintaining operational standards and respecting the rights and well-being of employees is crucial for building a sustainable and ethical work environment.
This incident underscores the importance of regulatory bodies and watchdogs in holding companies accountable for their data protection practices. As technology continues to play a central role in the workplace, lawmakers and regulators must stay vigilant to ensure that companies adhere to privacy laws and protect the rights of workers. The outcome of Amazon’s appeal, if pursued, could set a precedent for how companies navigate the challenges of implementing surveillance measures while respecting data protection regulations. The case also prompts a broader discussion on the need for comprehensive legislation and guidelines addressing workplace surveillance practices to safeguard employee rights in an increasingly digital and connected world.