Amazon worker

A woman works at an Amazon fulfillment center in Bretigny-sur-Orge, France on October 22, 2019.

(Photo: Philippe Lopez/AFP via Getty Images)

Amazon Fined in France for Illegally Spying on Workers

The retail giant was also ordered to pay more than $30 million last year after allegedly surveilling customers with its tech products.

Months after Amazon was fined more than $30 million for allegedly spying on customers in their homes, a French data watchdog on Monday announced it had ordered the retail giant to pay another $35 million for what it called "excessive" tracking of warehouse employees' activity.

France's National Commission on Informatics and Liberty (CNIL) informed Amazon France Logistique, which runs the U.S. company's warehouses in the country, of the fine late last month after investigating scanning devices used by employees.

Several features of the tools violate the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), according to the group.

The technology-focused news outlet The Registerreported that all employees at Amazon's French warehouses are given scanners that document their tasks, including when they pick up an item or place it in a delivery box.

CNIL found that the "inactivity indicators" on the scanners were "too precise" and could lead "to the employee potentially having to justify each break or interruption."

Another feature used to measure the speed at which the scanner is used and one that stored data history for 31 days were also deemed "excessive" by the watchdog.

CNIL's investigation found that before April 2020, temporary employees at the warehouses weren't informed that their data would be collected by the scanning devices and that no workers were sufficiently told that the facilities were equipped with video surveillance systems.

In violation of Article 32 of the GDPR, said the watchdog, "access to the video surveillance software was not sufficiently secure, since the password was not sufficiently robust and the access account was shared between several users."

The group said it determined the amount of Amazon's penalty by taking into account "the fact that the processing of employees' data by means of scanners differed from the methods of monitoring of traditional activity because of the scale at which they were implemented, both in terms of their completeness and permanence, and led to a very tight and detailed monitoring of the work of employees."

The EUobserver, which reports on democracy within the bloc, noted that the fine was announced on the same day that Amazon refused to participate in a European Parliament hearing on working conditions in its warehouses.

The fine comes less than a year after the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) determined that an Amazon employee had used its Ring security cameras to spy on female customers for several months, prompting the company to agree to a settlement worth $5.8 million.

Amazon also agreed to a $25 million settlement after being accused to failing to delete audio when parents requested they be erased from Alexa speakers.

The company said Tuesday that it "might appeal" the CNIL's decision and that the watchdog's conclusions about its surveillance practices were "factually incorrect."

In the U.S., progressive law professor Zephyr Teachout called the fine "excellent" and expressed hope that policymakers will soon pass "clear American laws that recognize just how harmful extreme monitoring is."

"Contract law is not the key," said Teachout. "Basic dignity is."

Amazon's focus on closely monitoring employees' activities has led to numerous injuries among workers, according to a survey by the University of Illinois Chicago's Center for Urban Economic Development last October. The center found that out of 1,484 employees, 70% had been forced to take unpaid time off due to sprains, strains, and other injuries sustained while rushing to keep up with Amazon's demanding quotas.

"We see clear evidence in our data," said researchers, "that work intensity and monitoring contribute to negative health outcomes."

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