Amazon Fined for Employee Surveillance and Illegal Data Collection
Amazon’s French warehouse management business, Amazon France Logistique, was fined €32 million ($34.8 million) by France’s privacy watchdog, CNIL.
The fine, imposed in late December, was for implementing an “excessively intrusive” system to monitor staff performance.
Monitoring Methods and CNIL's Concerns
The Wall Street Journal reveals the CNIL identified that Amazon was using data from scanners to assess employee productivity and downtime, which included tracking periods of inactivity exceeding 10 minutes.
The authority criticized the system for pressuring staff to justify each break or interruption, deeming it excessive and potentially harmful to employee well-being.
Amazon’s Response to the Allegations
Le Monde reports that Amazon expressed strong disagreement with the CNIL’s findings, stating, “We strongly disagree with the CNIL’s conclusions, which are factually incorrect.”
The company defended its warehouse management systems as common industry practice, emphasizing their role in ensuring safety, efficiency, and timely processing of packages, aligning with customer expectations.
Violation of GDPR and Insufficient Information to Employees
The CNIL highlighted that Amazon had not properly informed employees and visitors about the video surveillance, constituting a breach of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), as per information from CNBC.
This regulation is a foundation of data privacy and security law within the EU, and adherence to its guidelines is mandatory for operating entities.
Amazon’s Modifications to Its System
In response to the CNIL’s concerns, Amazon stated it had deactivated the functionality that detects when a package is processed too quickly.
Additionally, the threshold for inactivity warnings was extended to 30 minutes from the previous 10 minutes, indicating a shift in their approach to monitoring workforce productivity, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Basis of the CNIL’s Decision to Fine Amazon
The Wall Street Journal explains that the CNIL’s decision was based on inspections conducted following press reports about certain practices at Amazon’s warehouses.
The regulator also considered several complaints from employees, which contributed to their comprehensive assessment and subsequent ruling against Amazon’s surveillance methods.
The Financial Impact of the Fine on Amazon
The fine levied against Amazon France Logistique is substantial, amounting to about 3% of the company’s turnover, per information from Le Monde.
This financial penalty illustrates the seriousness with which CNIL views breaches of GDPR and the importance of maintaining privacy standards in workplace environments.
Employees Under Scrutiny and Pressure
The CNIL’s findings revealed that Amazon’s employees were under constant surveillance, with their every action, including breaks, being meticulously recorded and scrutinized, Le Monde reported.
This level of monitoring created an environment where employees felt pressured to continuously justify their actions.
Deepening Worries Over Employee Privacy
According to Le Monde, the level of surveillance at Amazon France Logistique extended to monitoring the time between employees’ entry into the warehouse and the commencement of their work. In addition to this, it was also revealed that employees were not adequately informed about the surveillance measures and that data was retained for 31 days.
Scanners even tracked the handling of packages and parcels “right up to the second,” according to the CNIL statement. Additionally, a method termed the “stow machine gun” was used to note if an article was scanned “too fast” or in less than 1.25 seconds
Safety and Efficiency vs. Privacy Concerns
Amazon’s defense of its practices hinges on the argument that such surveillance is necessary for safety and efficiency.
CNBC reveals that the company stated, “Warehouse management systems are industry standard and are necessary for ensuring the safety, quality, and efficiency of operations and to track the storage of inventory and processing of packages on time and in line with customer expectations.”
Amazon’s Potential Appeal
Amazon has reserved the right to appeal the decision, with a two-month window to do so, Le Monde explains.
This period will be critical for the company to decide whether to challenge CNIL’s ruling or to adjust its practices further to comply with GDPR standards.
Widespread Impact and Ongoing Scrutiny
The CNIL’s decision to fine Amazon France Logistique has far-reaching implications, affecting several thousand employees.
Le Monde reports that the probe, initiated by the CNIL in 2019, was in response to media articles and complaints by workers, demonstrating the need for ongoing scrutiny and regulation in corporate surveillance practices. The outcome of this case could set a vital precedent for protecting employee privacy in the digital age.