Amazon’s Panorama box lets firms check if staff follow coronavirus rules

Amazon's Panorama box lets firms check if staff follow coronavirus rules
Amazon's Panorama box lets firms check if staff follow coronavirus rules

Amazon plans to sell companies a way to detect when employees do not wear face masks or social distances.

Beyond the pandemic, the system could also be used to monitor compliance with other rules on the workplace or to monitor the public-for example, to check the number of queuing customers in the store.

It involves retrofitting a box to existing security cameras that can then be used for off-the-shelf AI applications.

But privacy campaigners have raised concerns.

Remote work has already led to an increase in the use of software that controls employees, but Amazon’s new solution focuses on tracking people and goods in factories, shops and other traditional workplaces.

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Automated inspection

The AWS Panorama appliance plugs in Internet Protocol (IP) cameras-a standard type of digital video camera used by a wide variety of businesses on their websites.

A standard CCTV camera is seen wall-mounted against a blurred light background.

It may automate inspection tasks, such as detecting manufacturing defects or tracking the movement of barcodes and labels.

But this tool can also be applied to people.

For example, in a retail store, Amazon suggested that it could count the number of customers, track their movements and check the length of the queues.

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In a factory or other working environment, the same tech can be used to monitor employees “and get notified immediately about any potential issues or unsafe situations so you can take pre-emptive action” the corporation said.

In the promotional material for the product, Fender guitars states that it uses the product to “track how long it takes for an associate to complete each task in the assembly of a guitar”

The Financial Times notes that AWS Panorama can identify cars being pushed in areas that it is not meant to be. Some big companies are now evaluating the device, including Siemens and Deloitte, the FT added.

A Revolution in Monitoring 

This week the Trades Union Congress (TUC), the UK Unions’ umbrella organisation, released its report on the usage of AI-powered tools used by workers.

“The announcement of this new monitoring tool is another example of how this revolution at work is picking up pace,” said policy officer Mary Towers.

But she warned her not to brush over the needs of staff.

“In our report, we warn about the potentially negative effects that intrusive technologies of this type can have on workers’ well-being, privacy rights, data security rights and the right not be discriminated against.”

Polling indicated that staff were still worried with the use of CCTV cameras to track output while they were meant to be mounted for protection, she said.

Silkie Carlo, owner of Big Brother Watch, said that electronic control of workplaces “rarely results in benefits for employees”

“It’s a huge shame that social distancing has been leapt on by Amazon as yet another excuse for collection of data and surveillance,” she said.

Amazon has now been met with criticism about how the factory workers are being tracked. In September, a survey by the U.S. study community revealed that Amazon used comprehensive staff monitoring to restrict union organising operations. And the company has struggled with some of its staff who have accused it of treating them as like robots”

This week, Microsoft apologised for allowing the behaviour of individuals to be tracked by their supervisors via a “productivity score” intended to provide high-level oversight.