back to article Amazon internal chat app that censored talk of unions and ethics may 'never launch at all'

Amazon allegedly planned an internal messaging app that filtered words like "union," "pay rise," and "ethics," alongside challenging and offensive terms, but after public disclosure of the project, the biz told The Register the software has not been approved and may never be deployed. Citing internal Amazon documents, The …

  1. Drew Scriver

    Slack can already do this...

    Not sure why Amazon is hanging this on a custom internal chat app. My (Fortune 500) employer recently announced that we can now enable self-censoring in Slack.

    The bot will make suggestions if people use words that are deemed problematic by the company, like "dummy value", "brown bag lunch", "man-hours", "soft skills", and "he".

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Meh

      Re: Slack can already do this...

      censorship at all. that's just stupid.

      WORSE if you try to violate the law with it (i.e. blocking attempts to unionize). That is VERY illegal inside the USA. Proving the violation of the law, on the other hand, may be difficult...

      It's quite literally a VERY old law that an employer can not punish employees nor in any way block the establishment of a labor union within the company. The ONLY thing they can do is offer incentives like higher wages lor better conditions to COMPETE with the unions. Censorship would most likely qualify as a violation of the law in this context. But then again, social media IN GENERAL needs to be SERIOUSLY PUNISHED for its censorship efforts (in general).

      I look forward to seeing some SERIOUS consequences for Amazon over this. Unfortunately it will probably mean price increases for consumers.

      1. uccsoundman

        Re: Slack can already do this...

        Amazon can do anything it wants in the USA. Remember that money = power and now Amazon has so much money they are FAR more powerful than the government. If really pushed, they will just lock the unionized warehouse and move next door. Yes it's against the law, but who cares; Amazon is now above the law. Remember in the USA, wealth equals absolute power, well above any government.

        1. SundogUK Silver badge

          Re: Slack can already do this...

          I think the US government has a bit more spending power than Amazon.

          1. Terry 6 Silver badge

            Re: Slack can already do this...

            Possibly not so much. Governments in democracies have to publish budget allocations and get votes through. Actual amount of cash isn't the same as the power to use it. Especially when companies can use their cash to buy politicians' votes promote their wishes.

        2. NoneSuch Silver badge
          FAIL

          First Amendment Says Yes You Can Say That...

          Amazon says No. No, you can't.

          Any corporation that only wants to hear good things is doomed.

    2. Cederic Silver badge

      Re: Slack can already do this...

      Without commenting on the other terms, or whether they should be deemed problematic, I'm wondering why 'soft skills' is in that list.

      Although https://www.ncda.org/aws/NCDA/pt/sd/news_article/278124/_PARENT/CC_layout_details/false I guess answers that.

      I can only facepalm. Develop your soft skills everybody, they'll help you in your career and your social life.

  2. Joe W Silver badge
    Coat

    may 'never launch at all'

    like the SLS?

    ---> heads off to get a(nother) drink

    1. b0llchit Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: may 'never launch at all'

      Well, yeah, they keep censoring the over-pressure valves and won't allow equilibrium through venting. Surely that would keep any sane pay load from rising.

  3. DS999 Silver badge

    Why would employees use an internal chat app?

    If you're making plans you don't do it somewhere the opposition can read them. And Amazon is most definitely the "opposition" when it comes to employees wanting to unionize.

    They might be doing them a favor by forcing them to use another method that Amazon can't spy on.

    1. Phil Lord

      Re: Why would employees use an internal chat app?

      It's a lot easier to organise inside the workplace than it is outside. That's one of the reasons that it has been a protected act for many decades.

      Clearly there is a risk with a company like Amazon. At the same time, this kind of action exemplifies exactly the need for a union in the first place.

      1. The_Wisest_One

        Re: Why would employees use an internal chat app?

        There is a notice board where you can pin your requests for people to join.

        What you shouldn't be able to do is use company property to arrange your rebellions.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It is amazing how much

    China can be a source of inspiration. Keep up the good work, guys!

    1. martinusher Silver badge

      Re: It is amazing how much

      >China can be a source of inspiration.

      From another ElReg article today:-

      "Huawei is owned by Huawei Investment & Holding Co Ltd, which is itself owned by two lots of shareholders, including Ren (0.84 percent of the company) and the Union of Huawei Investment & Holding Company (comprised of employees that hold 99.16 percent of the share capital)."

      That's probably why we in "the West" fear this company so much. Its bad enough that its Chinese and successful but being employee owned? That's really beyond the pale....it might invite imitation. (As we all know, we work and live "to make the payments"!)

      1. John69

        Re: It is amazing how much

        I wonder how that share ownership is distributed. If 10 employees hold 99% of the stock that does not make it particularly progressive.

        1. Terry 6 Silver badge

          Re: It is amazing how much

          Or if all the staff hold a tiny share each but the government makes clear what is going to happen anyway.......

        2. The_Wisest_One

          Re: It is amazing how much

          I wonder how progressive you would feel if I called round and decided half your stuff belongs to me with no reimbursement.

          Probably not very much.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ethics!

    We've heard of it… and banned it.

    Class. :-D

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Ethics!

      I was going to suggest that they could reverse the old joke, an use Essex as a replacement for ethics but, of course, the sex part of Essex is probably already in the filtration system. Likewise, as we all know here, not only is there a lot of collateral damage from word filters from the outset, but people adapt words that are not filtered and "weaponize" them. Dorthy is a perfectly normal name that can be used as an insult by some. Maybe all those Jeffs at Amazon need to just Bezos Off and stop and thinking about using amazon technology to prime the workers?

  6. Terry 6 Silver badge

    Remarkably stupid

    This is not just a staff-management facing system. Inevitably some or all of the banned list will be, in fact very quickly has been , made public.

    At which point all those banned words turn into a handy list of all the egregious things the company are doing.

    What on social media is called a "self own".

  7. doublelayer Silver badge

    A different kind of problem

    The article and comments have mostly focused on the workers' rights issues with this system, which is the most important aspect, but when I read the list of banned terms, I couldn't help but think of a less important technical issue. Specifically, if they ever implemented this and blocked on that list of words, their false positive rate would be so bad that nobody could practically use it. So many typical turns of phrase could set off those filters.

    Some examples:

    "Please [pay] close attention to the [raised] floor to avoid interfering with the work going on there."

    "The [rate] of warnings from the [robots] in area 3 means we'll need to call an engineer to fix them."

    Yes, if they built it, it would be concerning and unfair (oh no, another keyword), but it would also be completely broken.

    1. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge

      Re: A different kind of problem

      Indeed, just ask Sherril Babcock.

    2. lglethal Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: A different kind of problem

      "Boss, where is the restroom???" <Message Blocked>

      "Anyone, where can I find the toilet?" <Message Blocked>

      "Please, I need to use the Loo! Where do I find it? Do I need to raise this as an issue? <Message Blocked>

      "Screw you all, I'm just going to piss all over the Electrical Products!" <Message Blocked>

      "Dear Everyone, there seems to have been a leak or spillage in the area of the electrical products. If anyone knows anything about this, please let me know ASAP. The Boss" <Message Allowed>

      1. F. Frederick Skitty

        Re: A different kind of problem

        This is Amazon warehouses, so the staff are expected to piss in a bottle rather than waste time traipsing to and from a toilet. That might not be official policy, but there are reports of staff feeling compelled to do this as toilet breaks can earn you a rebuke from your manager.

        That said, I had a part-time job at a bank's cheque processing centre while I was a student. It was written into the contract that you could only take one toilet break per shift outside of your lunch break and it could not take more than five minutes. Factor in the distance to the toilets, and it was nigh in impossible to take a break in that time. A particularly petty manager loved to enforce this rule as well ...

  8. Howard Sway Silver badge

    slave labor, plantation, ethics, diversity, vaccine, robots

    It's very revealing how the words they wanted to ban say rather a lot about Amazon and the unpleasant truth its executives don't want the outside world to hear. The only thing that surprised me was that "piss in a bottle" wasn't on the list.

    1. Cederic Silver badge

      Re: slave labor, plantation, ethics, diversity, vaccine, robots

      Neither was toilet or nappy.

      Hell. Now I'm wondering: What do Amazon warehouses smell of?

  9. skeptical i
    Devil

    It's not forced overtime.

    It's a special productivity operation. Vladimir said so.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What an idiotic waste of time and effort

    Why are they so scared of a union? Maybe they should focus on running the business better so that their drivers don’t have to pee into bottles.

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      Re: What an idiotic waste of time and effort

      Indeed. Or - and I know this will be a shock - they could consider a business model with conditions that might make people want to work there other than 'because they need to eat'.

      Is there something deep in the human psyche that makes some people want to live in a serfs and overlord world, or is it just something you get along with your MBA?

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: What an idiotic waste of time and effort

        hence, labor union because they (apparently) do not listen and/or respond to grievances from employees.

        With a union, they'll HAVE to.

        A happy work force makes you profitable. Non-elitists know this.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          @bombastic bob - Re: What an idiotic waste of time and effort

          Not necessarily. Not paying your employees and working them till burn out also makes your enterprise profitable.

          1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

            Re: @bombastic bob - What an idiotic waste of time and effort

            Not paying your employees and working them till burn out also makes your enterprise profitable

            Right up until you run out of people desperate to work there..

      2. uccsoundman

        Re: What an idiotic waste of time and effort

        It's something you learn in business school, even undergrad. Capitalism ruthlessly rewards efficiency and punishes inefficiency. The most efficient business model is a Monopoly, and the most efficient labor model is involuntary servitude.

        1. SundogUK Silver badge

          Re: What an idiotic waste of time and effort

          None of this is true.

  11. Dan 55 Silver badge
    Devil

    "inappropriate and undue influence by the [National Labor Relations Board]"

    From the NLRB's website we can see the kind of thing Amazon deems inappropriate:

    The National Labor Relations Board is an independent federal agency that protects the rights of private sector employees to join together, with or without a union, to improve their wages and working conditions.

    Federal law gives you the right to form, join or assist a union; choose representatives to bargain with your employer on your behalf; act together with other employees for your benefit and protection; and choose not to engage in any of these protected activities.

    The law we enforce gives employees the right to act together to try to improve their pay and working conditions, with or without a union.

    The National Labor Relations Act forbids employers from interfering with, restraining, or coercing employees in the exercise of their rights.

    So with its latest outburst Amazon has still not disabused anyone of the notion that it is a poisonous viper's nest.

  12. Potemkine! Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Corporate hypocrisy

    "Our teams are always thinking about new ways to help employees engage with each other,", as long as you talk about what we want you to talk about.

    You are free to say whatever you want, but dissent will not be tolerated.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Forget waiting for the apocalypse

    Just get a job at Amazon.

  14. El Bard

    It's a right 2 n 8

    This is pretty much how cockney came about.

    it d be great to see Americans come up with a new dialect Or travel to east London for some accelerated workshops on the creative use of language.

  15. The_Wisest_One

    Round of applause for common sense.

    Absolutely should no employee be allowed to carry out mass subordination using company property on company time. The arrogance of some people leaves a lot to be desired.

    If a handful of self righteous trouble makers seek to cause trouble then they should do so out of work using their own capital expenditure.

    It's like a thief expecting to come in and use the C&C machine to duplicate a set of keys so they can later rob the joint.

    1. Swarthy Silver badge
      WTF?

      Re: Round of applause for common sense.

      See Icon.

  16. Efer Brick

    Well not now it wont*

    Amzn has a bad enough name.

    *Well, it might

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