Networked doorbell surveillance cameras like Amazon’s Ring are everywhere, and have changed the nature of delivery work by letting customers take on the role of bosses to monitor, control, and discipline workers, according to a recent report (PDF) by the Data & Society tech research institute. “The growing popularity of Ring and other networked doorbell cameras has normalized home and neighborhood surveillance in the name of safety and security,” Data & Society’s Labor Futures program director Aiha Nguyen and research analyst Eve Zelickson write. “But for delivery drivers, this has meant their work is increasingly surveilled by the doorbell cameras and supervised by customers. The result is a collision between the American ideas of private property and the business imperatives of doing a job.”
Thanks to interviews with surveillance camera users and delivery drivers, the researchers are able to dive into a few major developments interacting here to bring this to a head. Obviously, the first one is the widespread adoption of doorbell surveillance cameras like Ring. Just as important as the adoption of these cameras, however, is the rise of delivery work and its transformation into gig labor. […] As the report lays out, Ring cameras allow customers to surveil delivery workers and discipline their labor by, for example, sharing shaming footage online. This dovetails with the “gigification” of Amazon’s delivery workers in two ways: labor dynamics and customer behavior.
“Gig workers, including Flex drivers, are sold on the promise of flexibility, independence and freedom. Amazon tells Flex drivers that they have complete control over their schedule, and can work on their terms and in their space,” Nguyen and Zelickson write. “Through interviews with Flex drivers, it became apparent that these marketed perks have hidden costs: drivers often have to compete for shifts, spend hours trying to get reimbursed for lost wages, pay for wear and tear on their vehicle, and have no control over where they work.” That competition between workers manifests in other ways too, namely acquiescing to and complying with customer demands when delivering purchases to their homes. Even without cameras, customers have made onerous demands of Flex drivers even as the drivers are pressed to meet unrealistic and dangerous routes alongside unsafe and demanding productivity quotas. The introduction of surveillance cameras at the delivery destination, however, adds another level of surveillance to the gigification. […] The report’s conclusion is clear: Amazon has deputized its customers and made them partners in a scheme that encourages antagonistic social relations, undermines labor rights, and provides cover for a march towards increasingly ambitious monopolistic exploits.