Amazon workers may soon have their movements tracked while on the job if the e-commerce giant follows through with its recently patented products. In January 2018, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) awarded Amazon two patents for wearable electronics with built-in tracking functionality. The devices use ultrasonic waves to pinpoint workers’ location in a warehouse or factory.
Additionally, the devices use haptics feedback to correct workers’ mistakes. If a worker attempts to package the wrong product in a box, for example, the wearable device will vibrate. While subtle, this vibration could reduce human errors while improving worker productivity and efficiency. On the other hand, forcing workers to wear a movement-tracking device raises privacy concerns. The online retailer could theoretically fire workers who were slow or otherwise not performing up the company’s standards.
Amazon has come under fire in recent years for its unfriendly workplace culture. In 2015, several workers stepped forward to accuse the online retailer of creating a highly laborious environment in which workers’ family and personal needs were neglected.
Amazon’s plans for worker-tracking devices have apparently been in the works for quite some time. According to CNN, the online retailer submitted the product designs to the USPTO in 2016. However, it wasn’t until earlier this year when the patents were approved.
Of course, Amazon wouldn’t be the first company to use high-tech devices in the workplace. Some Google employees wear Google Glass to improve productivity, and some Ford employees use the Microsoft HoloLens. Nonetheless, the idea of tracking workers’ every movement has privacy advocates worried.
With more than 541,000 as of 2017, Amazon ranks as the country’s eighth-largest employer. The company began its website a digital marketplace where consumers could purchase e-books. Shortly after, it diversified into other products like MP3s, audiobooks, video games, software and eventually physical products. Today, Amazon is the world’s largest internet retailer based on market capitalization.