Advocacy groups plead with the FTC to ban corporate surveillance operations

The open letter uses Amazon as a prime example of how corporate surveillance can quickly cause harm across communities.

A long list of civil rights and general advocacy groups — 48 in total — have published an open letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) pleading for an end to corporate surveillance projects. The letter, which was organized by a group called Athena, uses Amazon as its most prominent illustration of the dangers associated with corporate surveillance. It was signed by a number of prominent advocacy groups like Fight for the Future, For Us Not Amazon, and Public Citizen.

“In purchasing smart surveillance devices that record everything we do and say, consumers unknowingly supply Big Tech with endless streams of data. The data collected fuels and solidifies corporate monopolies at the expense of consumers, workers, and communities,” the letter states. “The harms caused by this widespread, unregulated corporate surveillance pose a direct threat to the public at large, especially for black and brown people most often criminalized using surveillance.”

The letter is particularly affecting in its use of Amazon as a case study. The full scope of Amazon’s surveillance operation is truly staggering, and pointing out its intricacies serves the letter well.

The evidence speaks for itself — Though there are quite a few companies abusing their surveillance power at the moment, Amazon’s overall consumer power really does put its operations a step above the rest. You don’t even really have to dig very deep to figure out how problematic the company’s hardware is.

Amazon’s Ring cameras are the most prominent example of this problem; the company frequently partners with police departments and won’t even tell consumers what data, exactly, has been shared with the cops. Athena’s letter points to Ring’s connected Neighbors app as a significant problem for communities across the U.S., gamifying racial profiling and generally worsening racism.

Overall, Athena cites Amazon’s inability to fully secure its hardware as a main source of harm from the company. Ring users’ passwords have been leaked on the dark web; hackers have harassed Ring users with their devices; Ring has even had to fire employees for watching users’ feeds. More recently, Amazon’s Sidewalk network — which is activated without user consent — has thrown up red flags around the company’s many privacy issues.

Not gonna stop without some pushback — Despite these seemingly obvious abuses of power, Amazon is still moving forward with expanding these operations at full pace. One of the company’s latest Ring cameras literally flies around your house to watch you at all times; it’s reportedly working on a device for tracking kids, too.

Meanwhile, the FTC — an organization whose entire purpose is overseeing the domination of the tech world — has done nothing to slow Amazon’s surveillance expansion. That silence feels if not like a blessing, at least like an invitation to continue growing its reach.

These 48 organizations hope their collective voices will be heard by the FTC and that it will use its power to slow Amazon’s surveillance tech. Sometimes the FTC does actually do its job — so maybe there’s still some hope it’ll listen to these pleas.