Amazon Drivers Are Hanging Smartphones in Trees To Get More Work

A strange phenomenon has emerged near Amazon.com delivery stations and Whole Foods stores in the Chicago suburbs: smartphones dangling from trees. Contract delivery drivers are putting them there to get a jump on rivals seeking orders.

Someone places several devices in a tree located close to the station where deliveries originate. Drivers in on the plot then sync their own phones with the ones in the tree and wait nearby for an order pickup. The reason for the odd placement, according to experts and people with direct knowledge of Amazon’s operations, is to take advantage of the handsets’ proximity to the station, combined with software that constantly monitors Amazon’s dispatch network, to get a split-second jump on competing drivers. That drivers resort to such extreme methods is emblematic of the ferocious competition for work in a pandemic-ravaged U.S. economy suffering from double-digit unemployment. Much the way milliseconds can mean millions to hedge funds using robotraders, a smartphone perched in a tree can be the key to getting a $15 delivery route before someone else. Drivers have been posting photos and videos on social-media chat rooms to try to figure out what technology is being used to receive orders faster than those lacking the advantage.

Gig Workers for Target’s Delivery App Hate Their Algorithmically-Determined Pay

In 2017 Target bought a same-day home-delivery company called Shipt for $550 million. Shipt now services half of Target’s stores, reports Motherboard, and employs more than 100,000 gig workers.

Unfortunately, they’re working for a company that “has a track record of censoring and retaliating against workers for asking basic questions about their working conditions or expressing dissent,” reports Motherboard. For example, an hour after tweeting about how there was now much more competition for assignments, one Seattle gig worker found their account suddenly “deactivated” — the equivalent of being fired — and also received an email saying they were no longer “eligible to reapply”.

“They stamp out resistance by flooding the market with new workers…” complained one Shipt worker, “and they’re actively monitoring all the social media groups. ”
On its official national Facebook group, known as the Shipt Shopper Lounge, which has more than 100,000 members, Shipt moderators selected by the company frequently censor and remove posts, turn off comments sections, and ban workers who speak out about their working conditions, according to screenshots, interviews, and other documentation provided to Motherboard. The same is true on local Facebook groups, which Shipt also monitors closely, according to workers. Motherboard spoke to seven current Shipt workers, each of whom described a culture of retaliation, fear, and censorship online…

Because Shipt classifies its workers as contractors, not employees, workers pay for all of their expenses — including gas, wear and tear on their cars, and accidents — out of pocket. They say the tips on large orders from Target, sometimes with hundreds of items, can be meager. Workers say Shipt customers often live in gated and upscale communities and that the app encourages workers to tack on gifts like thank you cards, hot cocoa, flowers, and balloons onto orders (paid for out of their own pocket) and to offer to walk customer’s dogs and take out their trash, as a courtesy. Shipt calls this kind of service “Bringing the Magic,” which can improve workers’ ratings from customers that factor into the algorithm that determines who gets offered the most lucrative orders…

Unfortunately, that new algorithm (which began rolling out last year) is opaque to the workers affected by it — though Gizmodo reported pay appears to be at least 28% lower. And Motherboard heard even higher estimates:
“Our best estimate is that payouts are now 30 percent less, and up to 50 percent on orders,” one Shipt worker in Kalamazoo with two years under her belt, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, told Motherboard. “I fluctuate between extreme anger and despair. It’s been three weeks since this has been implemented, and one of my good friends told me that she’s down the equivalent of a car payment.”

Another Shipt worker in Palm Springs, California provided Motherboard with receipts for a 181-item order that included six Snapple cases, five La Croix cases, and 12 packs of soda. They had to wheel three shopping carts out of a Ralph’s grocery store and deliver them — and earned $12.68 for the job. The customer did not tip. (Under the older, more transparent pay model, they would have earned $44.19.) “That’s a real slap in the face,” they told Motherboard.

Smartphones and Fitness Trackers Are Being Used To Gauge Employee Performance

The passive system incorporates an app known as PhoneAgent, which was developed by Prof. Andrew Campbell at New Hampshire’s Dartmouth College. Using the smartphone’s own sensors, that app continuously monitors factors such as the worker’s phone usage, physical activity level, geographical location, and the ambient light levels of their environment. PhoneAgent is also Bluetooth-linked to a fitness bracelet worn by the employee, which transmits data including their heart functions, sleep quality, stress levels, and calorie consumption. Additionally, Bluetooth locational beacons in the person’s home and workplace monitor how much time they spend at each place, and how often they leave their workstation.

All of the phone, bracelet and beacon data is transmitted to a cloud-based server, where it’s processed via machine-learning algorithms that were “trained” on the habits of people already known to be high- or low-level performers. When tested on 750 workers across the U.S. over a one-year period, the system was reportedly able to distinguish between individuals’ performance levels (in a variety of industries) with an accuracy of 80 percent. That number should rise as the system is developed further.

Applying For Your Next Job May Be an Automated Nightmare

If you think looking for a job is already daunting, anxiety-riddled, and unpleasant, just wait until the algorithms take over the hiring process. When they do, a newfangled ‘digital recruiter’ like VCV, which just received $1.7 million in early investment, hopes it will look something like this: First, a search bot will be used to scan CVs by the thousands, yours presumably among them. If it’s picked out of the haystack, you will be contacted by a chatbot. Over SMS, the bot will set an appointment for a phone interview, which will be conducted by an automated system enabled by voice recognition AI. Next, the system will ask you, the applicant, to record video responses to a set of predetermined interview questions. Finally, the program can use facial recognition and predictive analytics to complete the screening, algorithmically determining whether the nervousness, mood, and behavior patterns you exhibit make you a fit for the company. If you pass all that, then you will be recommended for an in-person job interview.

[…] VCV, which did not respond to a request for comment, is far from alone here. A growing suite of startups is pitching AI-driven recruitment services, promising to save corporations millions of dollars throughout the hiring process by reducing overhead, to pluck more ideal candidates out of obscurity, and to reduce bias in the hiring process. Most offer little to no evidence of how they actually do so. VCV’s much-larger competitor, HireVue, which has raked in a staggering $93 million in funding and is backed by top-tier Silicon Valley venture capital firms like Sequoia, is hocking many of the same services. It counts 700 companies as its clients, including, it says, Urban Outfitters, Intel, Honeywell, and Unilever. AllyO, which was founded in 2015, and “utilizes deep workflow conversational AI to fully automate end to end recruiting workflow” has $19 million in backing.

Chinese companies using GPS tracking device smartwatches to monitor, alert street cleaners

Street cleaners in parts of China are reportedly being forced to wear GPS-tracking smartwatches so employers can monitor how hard they work, sparking public outrage and concern over increasing mass surveillance across the country.

If the smartwatch detects a worker standing still for over 20 minutes, it sounds an alarm. “Add oil, add oil [work harder, work harder!],” the wristbands’ alarm says, several cleaners from the eastern city of Nanjing told Jiangsu Television earlier this month.

The smartwatch not only tracks the cleaners’ locations but also reports their activity back to the company’s control room, where a big screen displays their locations as a cluster of red dots on a map.

“It knows everything,” an anonymous cleaner told a reporter in the Jiangsu Television report. “Supervisors will come if we don’t move after hearing the alarm.”

Following backlash, the company said it removed the alarm function from the smartwatch, but reports maintain the employees are still being required to wear the device so their location can be tracked.

The Chinese Government is already in the process of building a Social Credit System aimed at monitoring the behaviour of its 1.4 billion citizens with the help an extensive network of CCTV cameras and facial recognition technology.

Senior researcher for Human Rights Watch China Maya Wang said the use of surveillance technology by the Government was sending private companies a message that it was “okay to [monitor] people”.

Americans Are Lining Up To Work For Amazon For $15 an Hour

Analysts had worried Amazon’s wage increase would cut into its profits. So far that doesn’t seem to be the case. Amazon reported $3 billion in profit for the fourth quarter.

Silicon Valley’s dirty secret: Using a shadow workforce of contract employees to drive profits

As the gig economy grows, the ratio of contract workers to regular employees in corporate America is shifting. Google, Facebook, Amazon, Uber and other Silicon Valley tech titans now employ thousands of contract workers to do a host of functions — anything from sales and writing code to managing teams and testing products. This year at Google, contract workers outnumbered direct employees for the first time in the company’s 20-year history.

It’s not only in Silicon Valley. The trend is on the rise as public companies look for ways to trim HR costs or hire in-demand skills in a tight labor market. The U.S. jobless rate dropped to 3.7 percent in September, the lowest since 1969, down from 3.9 percent in August, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Some 57.3 million Americans, or 36 percent of the workforce, are now freelancing, according to a 2017 report by Upwork. In San Mateo and Santa Clara counties alone, there are an estimated 39,000 workers who are contracted to tech companies, according to one estimate by University of California Santa Cruz researchers.

Spokespersons at Facebook and Alphabet declined to disclose the number of contract workers they employ. A spokesperson at Alphabet cited two main reasons for hiring contract or temporary workers. One reason is when the company doesn’t have or want to build out expertise in a particular area such as doctors, food service, customer support or shuttle bus drivers. Another reason is a need for temporary workers when there is a sudden spike in workload or to cover for an employee who is on leave.

Who Pays the Price? The Human Cost of Electronics

“This short video reveals the hazards of the electronics industry in China profiling workers poisoned by chemicals and their struggle for compensation.

Thousands of young people in China enter export factories to make the West’s favorite electronic gadgets, only to find they have contracted occupational diseases or worse, leukemia, by the age of 25.”