Amazon’s Anti-Theft Practices

Josh Eidelson and Spencer Soper writing under the oh-so-Gen-Y title, Amazon’s Story Time Is Kind of a Bummer

Security experts say Amazon’s anecdotal warnings are a natural extension of older corporate loss-prevention tactics, such as frisking employees as they leave a store. “There are people who will never steal. There’s a certain percentage of people that will always steal,” says Pat Murphy, the president of LPT Security Consulting. “You’re always trying to influence that middle group by reminding them there is a high probability they will get caught, and if I get caught, these are the consequences.” Murphy, who spent two decades in retail security after leaving the Dallas police force, says that while the psychology of Amazon’s flatscreen messages is familiar, he’s never heard of anything quite like them.

One of my first non-family jobs was working in the mall. In the year or so that I worked there, we had at least two “loss-prevention” seminars where we were threatened with firing and probable jail time if we stole, including anonymized examples of employees who had been caught. We were encouraged to inform on any employee we saw doing anything slightly dodgy. Almost as an adjunct, we were taught how to spot shoplifters. The reason for the scare tactics and their zealousness in prosecuting was that they reportedly lost more from employee theft than from outside theft.

I later worked for the post office and during our training we were told about the postal inspectors, who we were told had a conviction rate higher than 90 percent. The intended message was: if you do something wrong, you will get caught. This was partially because of universal and pervasive surveillance. Post office centers are built with private passageways[1] set with loopholes that allow inspectors to overlook the entire building, especially the sorting floor, from various vantage points. Employees are never sure whether they are under observation or not. At both places, as a condition of employment, you had to sign an agreement that permitted you, your person, your belongings, and your car to be searched at any time, for any reason.

I had these jobs about 20 years ago. Back then, they used posters tacked to a bulletin board. Now, Amazon uses monitors. This is nothing new. Honestly, I found the medievalesque post office observation practices much more creepy than this seems.

  1. Oh, look, there’s a YouTube video of them!  ↩