Pluralistic: 05 Apr 2022

Today's links

A Black woman picketer holding a sign; all the words on the sign have been redacted with black tape. A piece of black tape emblazoned with the Amazon 'smile' logo covers her mouth. Behind her is a faded stack of Amazon boxes.

Amazon's new employee chat app blocks "fairness," "grievance" and "diversity" (permalink)

Amazon has an Orwell problem. Back in 2009, Amazon surprised Kindle owners by reaching into their devices over the network and deleting their copies of Nineteen Eight-Four, along with their annotations. Amazingly, this was just a garden-variety screw-up and not a piece of self-critical theater to demonstrate the risks of connected devices that allowed their manufacturers to override their owners.

The company's love affair with Orwell never ended, and they never figured out that old George wrote those books as warnings, not suggestions.

Take the company's forthcoming employee chat app Shout Outs, which will "gamify" performing grueling, low-waged work by rewarding workers with virtual stars when they "add direct business value." Leaked minutes from a high-level Nov 2021 meeting to plan this app record that Dave Clark, Amazon's head of worldwide consumer business, believes that "some people are insane star collectors."

The minutes of this meeting were leaked to The Intercept's Ken Klippenstein, whose reporting reveals that the chat app has a long list of blocked words that cannot be electronically uttered by Amazon workers, in the name of promoting a "positive community."

Included on the list:

I hate
Pay Raise
I don’t care
This is concerning
This is dumb
Senior Ops
Living Wage
Slave labor

A cursory glance at this list makes it clear that Amazon is very anxious about its workers discussing their working conditions ("restrooms" is a particularly telling inclusion, given the company's notorious work-station pee bottles).

But controlling its workers' vocabulary won't be enough. After a pitched battle, employees at Amazon's Staten Island JFK8 warehouse have had their union certified:

The union drive was led by Chris Smalls, the former Amazon warehouse team lead who blew the whistle on unsafe working conditions in the warehouse at the start of the covid lockdown and was fired and subjected to racist smears in retaliation.

Amazon has since doubled down on its duty to murder warehouse workers, for example, when it prohibited Illinois workers from seeking shelter last December as a deadly tornado bore down on them.

Given the depth of workers' grievances and the thickness of Amazon's margins, the idea that imposing Newspeak via a chat app will neutralize worker power is laughable.

(Image: Kheel Center, CC BY 2.0, modified)

Hey look at this (permalink)

This day in history (permalink)

#20yrsago WiFi, Blogging and conferences — the end of the one-way “conversation?”

#10yrsago Richard Clark: the President should create customs inspections for data leaving American cyberspace

#5yrsago How optimistic disaster stories can save us from dystopia

#5yrsago The old Register of Copyrights snuck a $25M fake line-item into the budget

#5yrsago IoT vendor objects to “rude” review, renders complainer’s device inoperable

#5yrsago Trump administration wants to force visitors to US to reveal social media passwords and answer questions about political beliefs

#1yrago How Facebook will benefit from its massive breach

Colophon (permalink)

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