Amazon Flex drivers, who deliver packages for the e-commerce giant have long suspected that the company surveils their private Facebook groups, where workers share frustrations, advice, and jokes about their work—and sometimes, criticize the company for their working conditions.
On Tuesday, Motherboard published internal documents, reports, and an online tool confirming their suspicions. The files show that for years Amazon has meticulously tracked Amazon Flex drivers in dozens of closed Facebook groups across the United States, the United Kingdom, and Spain. Amazon corporate employees receive regular reports detailing the posts of its gig workers on Facebook, according to the files left online and viewed by Motherboard. Among other concerns, the tool monitors "planning for any strike or protest against Amazon."
After the Motherboard article was published, Amazon promised to discontinue its social media monitoring program, saying the "approach didn't meet [their] standards," and promising to stop "aggregating information from closed groups."
Motherboard reached out to drivers in the closed Facebook groups listed on Amazon's "social media monitoring list," and asked what it was like to learn they were being watched.
Many admins of private Amazon Flex driver Facebook groups were not surprised to learn that Amazon had planted spies with corporate ties in their groups, but worried that drivers could not speak freely about their working conditions, and said it was inappropriate for the company to intercept plans for protests and other forms of resistance.
The admin of a large Facebook group in Chicago, who wished to remain anonymous, wrote to Motherboard in Facebook Messenger that he has serious concerns about the company using surveillance to hamper protests and dissent.
"As a driver myself, I can say that Amazon Flex drivers are being undervalued by the company, and I assumed we've been watched, to prevent drivers protests and sabotage… that's why I don't post much," he said. "[The] general opinion is that we are watched to prevent any mass resistance, which could bother Amazon.”
Erick Sabando, an admin of the private Facebook group "AMAZON-FLEX DRIVERS' LOUNGE- Phoenix, AZ," which has 2,100 members, said he has also always suspected that Amazon placed moles in his Facebook group to surveil workers.
"It’s always been speculation and we haven’t really been able to prove anything despite context clues and weird coincidences," Sabando wrote to Motherboard on Facebook Messenger. "A few years [ago] [people] would happily post their routes and how fast they’d get them done because of their hustle. Then slowly we started noticing [Amazon] giving us routes that would take us further and further…with more volume until we finally were getting sent to remote towns that were an hour or more away and with literally no paved roads. [People's] cars were getting damaged from rough terrain because of low clearance among other things. [People] definitely have stopped 'bragging' about how quick they could finish their routes because of the speculation of warehouse spies in the group."
Another Amazon Flex driver who is the admin of a private national Facebook group for Amazon Flex drivers with tens of thousands of members said he was aware that Amazon had planted corporate employees in his Facebook group, he had even accepted them into his group, hoping they'd listen to workers' concerns.
"I can assure you that Amazon staff members are in that group. I could see it on their Facebook profiles and I'm the one who approved their entry," said the admin.
He feels that Amazon has wasted its time surveilling workers on social media rather than addressing what he says are serious problems with the platform, such as wrongful deactivations and bots.
"Many people in the group are scared," he continued. "They still say what they want to say, but they’re cautious. Others say whatever they want. The fact they know people are looking makes them want to say lots of stuff."
"I'm more concerned about them not addressing wrongful deactivations. They spend all this time spying on us, but don't address our main complaints," he continued. "Some people rely on this money to pay their rent."
For a company with a strong anti-union bent and a high level of surveillance in its warehouses and delivery trucks, perhaps it's not shocking to learn that Amazon also surveils its gig workers. On Tuesday, in a now removed job listing, the company solicited analysts who could monitor among other sensitive issues, "labor organizing threats against the company." In April, Business Insider revealed that Amazon-owned Whole Foods used a heat map to track stores that could be at risk of unionization, by measuring factors including "team member sentiment" and "store risks." Since the start of the pandemic Amazon has fired three warehouse workers who organized for safer working conditions during the pandemic.