back to article Every step you take: We track you for your own safety, you know?

Jeff Bezos does my gardening. This was something of a surprise to me, too, as my usual gardener – who's called Geoff, eerily enough – has already visited this morning. Why Mr Bezos should now be in my back garden trimming bushes and edging the lawn is beyond me. Maybe it's a Prime Exclusive. Unfortunately, I haven't seen JB …


  1. TonyJ Silver badge

    I once worked at a company and amongst other things, we repaired camcorders (remember them?).

    One day one of the guys was panning one around and he noticed that the new clock that had appeared recently in the workshop had a white spot.

    The CCD sensors in even mobile phones pick up infrared as white light - try it sometime if you are bored: flip your phone to camera and point a tv remote at it whilst pressing a button on the remote.

    Anyway, it turns out the company owner had decided to buy a covert spy camera.

    He pulled a couple of still stunts like that over the years - turning off the beep on the front door so he could sneak in when people were doing overtime; putting a clocking in and out machine in just for the engineers (that backfired catastrophically as people went from staying to fix whatever the were working on to working to the clock).

    It's not new behaviour even if it's abhorrent.

    1. A K Stiles
      Big Brother

      An organisation I used to work for had a time recording clock system, which recorded time in decimal hours - 8.0 - clock was reading between 08:00 and 08:05, 8.1 - clock was reading between 08:06 and 08:11, etc. The system automatically removed a specific amount of time during the day to reflect a lunch break so you only clocked in on arrival and out on departure, at the building you worked in whilst the car park could be up to 1/2 mile away and car share people had difficulties from the divergent attendance where they worked in different buildings closer or further away from the car park.

      In the morning you'd have a bunch of people hustling to get to the clock machine so it clocked you in before ticking across to the next 6 minute block, whilst at the end of the day there would be a queue forming as nobody would clock out when the clock read 29 minutes past the hour.

      After a few years it eventually changed to recording the nearest minute, which at least reduced the queuing to leave issue. Joys of a big organisation and not trusting their highly paid staff members.

      Senior managers didn't have to use the clock system as 'they obviously work longer hours anyway'.

      1. Terry 6 Silver badge

        In my yoof I briefly worked in a big industrial printers . And there was a time clock. And the queue to clock off at the permitted time went half way round the building.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          "In my yoof I briefly worked in a big industrial printers . And there was a time clock. And the queue to clock off at the permitted time went half way round the building."

          and, naturally, as well as docking people coming in late, they paid overtime to those clocking out after the normal quitting time, yes? </sarc>

          1. Terry 6 Silver badge

            John Brown (no body)

            Yes, but it was better to not complete the day's work on a Friday, because at weekend it was double time.

      2. TheProf

        @A K Stiles

        The time recorder at one place I worked used decimal hours and 'clicked' every 36 seconds. I'm not ashamed to say I'd stand there waiting for it to click over before clocking out. After all what's 1/100 of an hour to a big company?

    2. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      It's not new behaviour even if it's abhorrent.

      He is lucky it is UK. He would be doing jail time for this one if this was in Germany or Austria as well as the several countries which cut-n-pasted their privacy legislation (f.e. Russia).

    3. Teiwaz Silver badge

      I once worked at a company and amongst other things, we repaired camcorders (remember them?).

      I think the concept that people actually used to be able to get something repaired is more of a stick poked at a dusty synapse.

      1. TonyJ Silver badge

        "...I think the concept that people actually used to be able to get something repaired is more of a stick poked at a dusty synapse..."

        It was the early 90's, so're right. :(

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "a covert spy camera" or security camera ?

      TonyJ provided an interesting tale.

      Emitting infrared light is not an inherent requirement of cameras, covert spy or otherwise. It's not uncommon for cameras to use IR LEDs to illuminate the dark, or as a focusing aid distance measuring. But dong so certainly impacts the 'covert' aspect.

    5. DiViDeD Silver badge

      Re: "It's not new behaviour"

      Many years ago, doing a stint with a very oldschool solicitor firm which had just gone computery (ah, the old CADO Cat!), they had a signing in book. Each staff member had to enter their name and arrival time.

      Part of the office manager's duties involved drawing a thick red line under the most recent arrival's name at 9:00 on the dot so people couldn't fake their arrival time.

    6. Potemkine! Silver badge

      flip your phone to camera and point a tv remote at it whilst pressing a button on the remote.

      It's a very useful trick to check if the batteries of the remote are empty or if it's instead that bloody TV set which went amok 30s before the start of the finale.

  2. Chronos Silver badge

    "Safe place"

    Now I get it. The tracker isn't in the van, it's in Jeff's smartphone. And looking more closely at the street map, it appears he's not in my back garden but my neighbour's, placing his delivery package in its "safe location" at the back porch.

    Which is now not so safe as it has broadcast the fact that mateyboy has just put something there. With my security hat on, this is a potential vector, quite aside from the privacy of the worker delivering the packages.

    Still, this is Dabbsy's column, so I shouldn't be so bloody serious.

    1. Terry 6 Silver badge

      Re: "Safe place"

      Dabsy's columns are usually serious. The points he makes are often very serious commentary on modern tech lead society. It's just that he's funny about it

      1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: "Safe place"

        It's just that he's funny about it

        As in "ready for the funny farm"?

    2. JimC Silver badge

      Re: "Safe place"/potential vector

      I'm sure that was as obvious to Dabbsy as it was to me, hence the quotes...

    3. elDog Silver badge

      Re: "Safe place"

      Or a bit of a assault on privacy of the nice lady in the next-door manse waiting for the "postman" who only rings once...

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Corporate Security

    After having to help corp security find the whereabouts of a dozen or so visitors I'd been hosting from around the globe, after one terrorist incident, I'm not averse to there being a system in place with an app.

    Even if I know deep down that kind of thing is just HQ butt-covering.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Corporate Security

      Hmm ... just for the down voters:

      Some of the people had gone on to stay in the town and attended the event where the attack, which had multiple fatalities, took place.

      1. not.known@this.address Bronze badge

        Re: Corporate Security

        I Upvoted you as you've identified a good use for the App and related systems - I suspect the downvoters are either too cynical and paranoid (yes, such *is* possible) to understand that everything (even politicians and Big Brother apps like this) can have a positive use or are Management types who don't want the plebs thinking they should be getting anything good at all out of this.

        You can get "card protectors" that (allegedly) stop people activating your contactless cards - does anyone make pouches that do the same for Smartphones?

        1. David Nash Silver badge

          Smartphone pouches

          You don't need pouches, just turn off location when you are not on company business.

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: Smartphone pouches

            "just turn off location"

            Going through the procedure to turn it off and actually turning it off aren't necessarily the same thing.

            1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

              Re: Smartphone pouches

              "Going through the procedure to turn it off and actually turning it off aren't necessarily the same thing."

              Not least of which is the that turning "location" off in most cases merely turns off the GPS. Phone mast location can still operate, albeit not as accurately.

          2. Tom Paine Silver badge

            Re: Smartphone pouches

            Turning off location is the first thing to do with a new phone; I've never so far had cause to turn it back on. As fara sI know that only deactivates the GPS, though - it doesn't stop the various other techniques for localising a device.

          3. Da Weezil

            Re: Smartphone pouches

            Turn of location services while not on company business? hold on... its MY phone.

            If they want to track this wage slave they can provide the hardware themselves. location services are only shared with a small group of people that I feel need to be able to locate me. NONE of them relate to employment.

            With some employers, we are moving further away from a mere contract of emplyment into becoming "owned assets".

          4. Bernard M. Orwell Silver badge
            Big Brother

            Re: Smartphone pouches

            "You don't need pouches, just turn off location when you are not on company business."

            Not necessarily sufficient to turn off location reporting these days:



        2. Graham Cobb

          Re: Corporate Security

          I downvoted you because you have identified a completely disproportionate and unrealistic justification for a blatant privacy violation.

          Yes, I understand that the incident caused you and your company a lot of genuine concern and I commend your hard work in checking on your visitors' safety. I had an employee on business in the New York area on 9/11 and it was obviously very worrying for him, his family and for us in the company. I know that his wife appreciated the effort we went to to confirm his safety and let her know before he had been able to call her directly.

          However, such incidents are of such low likelihood that it is not worth taking any action at all in advance, let alone sacrificing an important human right. I haven't checked the numbers, but I am sure the likelihood of being killed in a terrorist attack is much less than that of being killed by lightning.

          What we need is a society which values reasonable assessments of risk and accepts that "something must be done -- this is something" is no way to make decisions.

          1. dbtx Bronze badge

            something must be done -- this is something

            "Ahh, there's nothing like a totally worthless 'CYA' maneuver, when one's customers are miffed."

            "... wouldn't 'creative problem solving' lead to a much better ending?"

            "I didn't say there was nothing better, I said there was nothing like it."

            (because some people who make decisions where I work happen to really suck at thinking)

      2. David Nash Silver badge

        Re: Corporate Security

        I've worked at several places where they have a system to ask people to "check-in" in the case of such incidents. No tracking involved, just concern for their employees.

        1. lglethal Silver badge

          Re: Corporate Security

          Umm, if you were trying to track them down, why didnt you just call their phones? An app means they need a network connection and thats the first thing to drop out, before the ability to make calls, in an "overactive" (for want of a better term) area.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Corporate Security

            (different AC here)

            If you have a major terrorist incident, cell phone service isn't going to be a reliable contact method to reach people in the danger zone for the following reasons:

            * A big enough event may have taken out local towers or other communication links.

            * The surviving network is instantly swamped with inbound and outbound calls as people try to check in.

            * The area becomes saturated with additional traffic as first responders arrive.

            * Depending on the nature of the incident and local support: The telco network may be intentionally suppressed to either prevent remote triggering of bombs or to prioritize emergency communications.

            Beyond the technical issues, there's the human element issue. If there's an active situation (hostage situation, active shooter, etc.) DO NOT call anyone you suspect may be in the line of danger. If you call them, you could reveal a hiding space, or you could interrupt their attempts to get a message out.

            The final possibility is that he may have attempted to call them (after the chaos died down and the above items no longer apply) and not gotten a response. In that situation, you may find that a tracking app puts them miles away from the scene and simply out of touch, in which case you relax. Or it may put their last known location right at the event, in which case you may need to deploy some effort to find out if they're among the fatalities.

            1. Tom Paine Silver badge

              Re: Corporate Security

              * The area becomes saturated with additional traffic as first responders arrive.

              [ argue_mode="the toss" ]

              In many (not all) such circumstances, the first thing that any non-medical first responders will be doing is explaining to everyone around that they should vacate the area as fast as practical. (the police training in that "voice of command" thing is remarkably effective.)

              Secondly the first responders are still using AirWave, rather than mobile phones, as the plan to move them onto the EE cellular network is going about as well as you'd expect it to. I trust the emergency services don't take personal devices with them on duty (anyone know?)

              Not calling people to check they're OK in case they're hiding in a cupboard has only ever been an issue in the US, where marauding shooters are a weekly or daily occurrence. There have been a couple of hostage situations in France where it could have had tragic consequences.

        2. joed

          Re: Corporate Security

          I don't know who I'd be afraid more - the company with "concern for their employees" or the service provider. For this reason I've refused to install their app and I've never checked in outside of the "in private" mode (during emergency drills). Location services are off (most of the time) but who knows how soon mdm will disable possibility of users (like me) having this choice.

          1. doublelayer Silver badge

            Re: Corporate Security

            The fact that you can think of a reasonable use case for the software, for which I commend you, doesn't make the software all right. The problem is that you are thinking about how to actually use the software for its stated purpose, which is to make people safe. If I had to use it, I'd definitely prefer to have you running the system and dealing with the results. However, the people who are actually buying this are almost certainly using it to track their employees in a way that is very creepy.

            For an analogy, consider keyloggers. You could use one of these for a variety of legitimate purposes. You could use it to help correct frequent errors. You can use one (I've done this) to identify users by their typing style. You can use one to have an audit trail of things entered into systems that don't make it simple to collect one otherwise. All of these uses are possible, but usually keyloggers are used to steal passwords and related information, and saying that it will be used for other purposes followed by, essentially, "trust me" shouldn't just be taken at face value.

            This has been done before. Companies that wish to break the law but make it look legitimate make excuses for what they're doing. The people who make software that allows people to test their malware against antivirus never say they thought malware writers would pay them for it, but instead market it as a service for software writers. The people who make malware that enables stalkers to track all phone activity market it as security software. People who make malware that allows people to spy through webcams market it as a convenient way to turn that old laptop into a home security camera. These are deceptions. It would be great if everyone deploying a system was like you, having the safety of the employees in mind, but they aren't, and that reality is important to deal with.

          2. Tom Paine Silver badge

            Re: Corporate Security

            Pretty sure MDM with location tracking would be a pretty major no-no under GDPR. Some employers may have a legit interest in knowing staff locations (delivery drivers, taxis, er,.. ) but as with Dabbsy's Amazon drone, the tracking should be of the vehicle only.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If it's their for health and safety then as an employee you could argue it's optional however we know companies will say it's mandatory for your own good, not sure how many times I've heard that one before.

  5. TonyJ Silver badge

    Corporate tracking devices, courtesy of Dilbert: :)

    Forgot to add that to my post

    1. John Miles

      It has advanced a bit since then - Employee Health monitoring - though you can turn the tables Boss Decision Making, but hope it isn't an inherited trait Mom's monitoring

  6. Dan 55 Silver badge

    This will work...

    ... at least until someone follows the delivery man round all day and collects the packages.

    1. joed

      Re: This will work...

      exactly my thought. I'm really surprised that Amazon let something like this slip out. Not sure about compliance with GDPR but definitely it's a security risk for customers and great opportunity for for criminal when time with release of an iDevice or alike (buy one, pick bunch free en route).

      1. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

        Re: This will work...

        Many tracking URL's that delivery companies give you used to be easily hackable, in the sense that, changing the tracking number by 1, or so, you can track some random other person's parcel - complete with their address (and whether they were in or not).

        Hopefully this vulnerability has now been fixed.

    2. Colonel Mad

      Re: This will work...

      Or worse?

    3. Tom Paine Silver badge

      Re: This will work...

      But only someone with a parcel on the van that would have access to that data. Narrows down the range of suspects quite a lot, especially if they do it more than once..

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's to protect your health and safety

    It's to protect your (employers') bottom (line), i.e. make sure that, as humanly possible, you spend 100% of the time they pay you for, on the job they pay you to do. Wait til the next step, when they start _deducting_ your pay for each instance when you fail to meet the minimum 100%. Nonsense? Yeah, right, wouldn't YOU want to earn "this little bit extra"? And "that little extra bit extra"? Every little help, so why not THAT little extra bit.... And comes a salesman (salesbot) with the product that helps you achieve EXACTLY THAT. Which human would refuse that "extra"? :/

  8. cklammer

    Alistair is easy

    This article proves one conclusion at least: Alistair is easily and cheaply entertained :-)


    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Alistair is easy

      Yes, it only requires a US megacorp to plough millions of dollars into logistics to keep him happy.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Alistair is easy

      But could he be an 'Amazon Addict'

      Yes folks, another 'AA' member about to attend 'their meetings'.

      Just say no to Amazon. If you want the biggest hit of endorphines go to the store and buy the thing. Buying from Amazon does not come anywhere near it in terms of euphoria levels. (other online outlets are available)

  9. JeffyPoooh Silver badge

    Battery life ?

    As recently as the iPhone 6, using the GPS essentially continuously results in the battery charge assuming a downward trajectory to intercept 'flat' in about 5-6 hours.

    Perhaps the very latest GPS chipsets (or the embedded 'baseband' equivalent) have improved their power consumption, so that they'll last an entire working day.

    In other news, Package Thieves are doing very well. Their theft efficiency is way up, almost as if they're tracking the deliveries. Coincidently, Jag sales are up.

    1. HamsterNet

      Re: Battery life ?

      Two points, later phones use mostly Wi-fi map to reduced the power requirement significantly.

      Secondly they can have chargers in the van.

      1. cambsukguy

        Re: Battery life ?

        Given that GPS devices shouldn't use much power and that WiFi locating does, albeit usefully for location purposes, it is the cell transmissions that will do for it.

        If a blue dot was seen traversing a garden etc. then either the device was transmitting continuously, goodbye battery, or it transmitted more rarely and AWS filled in the gaps using interpolation or stupidity.

        Either way, transmitting and mapping all day will break even the baddest regular phone so charging is a near certainty.

        And, given the requirement to have it on the person and the fact that they might have to get out of the van every few minutes, I would have thought wireless charging was a must.

        It just so happens that I work on a product that tracks location, checks for danger via several vectors and continuously updates a server with multiple sensor readings, whether it be heart rate or noise levels etc. We aim at a minimum 12-hours using a smartphone-sized battery (3000/4000mAh).

        Of course, we don't have a powerful processor, a big screen or loads of apps installed so it is more do-able.


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