Amazon's privacy-unfriendly (and borderline creepy) delivery tracking service


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Amazon's delivery tracking service both fascinates and bothers me.

Now, the ability for companies to track trucks isn't new. GPS satellites have been in orbit for 40 years, available to citizens, the military, and for whatever other purposes. FedEx and DHL both offer real-time updates of your packages, to within a few minutes. They have to process tons of data and deliver it to tens of thousands of customers all day every day, in a nice format online. Not earth-shattering, but it's pretty darn cool.

But Amazon doesn't just provide a window into where your shipment's at. They invite you to ride alongside the driver, watching every stop until your house, then they drop you off with your package. Does this seem like a problem to anyone else?

It starts with an "Arriving Today" text message - my package is out for delivery. Yay! The fulfillment center it's coming from is an hour or so away, and from that point on I can view a live map and watch the driver's progress. Oh, the anticipation!

The first time I noticed a significant stop was just outside the fulfillment center. Apparently my driver stopped to gas up. A half hour later, he stops near for about 10 minutes, at Buffalo Wild Wings. For a delivery, or to pick up lunch on the go? There were stops near a PNC bank and in several neighborhoods too. See? Creepy.

There was a pause near an NTB, but that could've just been waiting at the light I suppose. I could just sit and watch as he traveled along the highway, into my neighborhood, stopped at several neighbors, and finally arrived at my house.

Right on time. The part that really bothers me is that whoever else comes after me, in my neighborhood or even an hour away, could also be sitting there watching the brief pause on my street corner. I've never had a package swiped, but damn .. would it be that unbelievable? 😕

We have the technology to do this, but should we? It seems like it should spark an interesting ethics debate, but no one I know seems to be worried about it.

Do we really need this? What's the advantage of me seeing these up-to-the-minute updates? Is it so I can stop at Buffalo Wild Wings to intercept my package from the driver personally? 🤨

Does this convenience come at the expense of mine (and others) privacy? Shouldn't there be an opt-out that allows me to mark my shipment as incognito or something, so that as the driver approaches my street the blue dot gets huge or blacks out a block before and after my house?

Maybe all of this just scratches an itch we didn't even know we had. As Amazon Prime spoils us, and makes 1- and 2-day deliveries the norm, maybe 1-2 days is becoming just too long to wait. In the age of microwaves, streaming tv, and push notifications, we've come to accept that information is king, and the faster the better.

And as usual, privacy comes a distant second to convenience.


Grant Winney

Is there anything more satisfying than sharing knowledge? Of teaching someone and witnessing their "ah ha" moment? I usually write about tech, but no promises. I hope you find something interesting!