NEW YORK – Amazon is tired of ringing the doorbell.
The online shopping giant is pushing homeowners across the country – sometimes with financial incentives – to give its drivers the ability to unlock apartment building doors themselves with a mobile device.
The service, dubbed Key for Business, is touted as a way to reduce stolen packages by making it easier to drop them off in the halls and not outside. Amazon benefits because it allows delivery people to make their rounds faster. And fewer stolen packages reduce costs and could give Amazon an edge over its competition.
Those who installed the device say it reduces the constant hum from delivery people and is a safer alternative to handing out codes to dozens of delivery people.
But the Amazon program, first announced in 2018, could raise security and privacy concerns as it gains traction. The company said it performs background checks on delivery people and they can only unlock the doors when they have a package on hand to scan. But tenants may not know that Amazon drivers have access to their building’s front doors because Amazon leaves it up to the building to notify them.
Ashkan Soltani, a privacy researcher who was senior technical adviser to former President Barack Obama, said any device connected to the internet could be hacked, including the one on Amazon, and malicious actors could try unlock the doors.
“You’re essentially bringing a foreign device connected to the Internet into an otherwise internal network,” said Soltani, who was also a former chief technologist with the United States Federal Trade Commission.
Amazon did not respond to questions about the potential hack.
The company has already installed the device in thousands of apartment buildings in the United States, but declined to give a specific number. He sometimes leaves a clue by placing a round sticker with the Amazon smile logo on the buzzers where the device has been installed. On a New York City street, the sticker was on three of the 11 buildings. In another neighborhood, two of the seven buildings bore the sticker.
Amazon sellers have spread to cities across the country knocking on doors, making cold calls, or approaching building managers on the streets to entice them to install the device. The company even teamed up with local locksmiths to impose it on building managers while they fix the locks. Amazon installs the device for free and sometimes offers a $ 100 Amazon gift card to whoever lets it in.
Soltani said he heard about Key for Business when he was approached by two Amazon sellers in April who wanted to gain access to the building he lives in in Oakland, California. Building management declined and no devices were installed.
Amazon had better luck with Kenton Girard. Chicago owner Girard agreed to have the device installed in four of his buildings to reduce parcel theft, which was becoming so serious that he was considering building a parcel drop box outside.
“I would have paid to have this done,” Girard said of the Amazon device.
Currently, only the US Postal Service has a way to enter apartment buildings in order to access mailboxes. UPS says it tested a way for its employees to enter buildings without the buzz of tenants, by partnering with a smart lock company in 2018. But that test came to an end and UPS declined to say why. The company says customers can instead have their packages delivered to nearby grocery stores, dry cleaners or florists if they’re not at home.
FedEx declined to comment for this story.
Amazon has wanted to go through people’s front doors for years. In 2017, he launched a way for shoppers to let delivery people enter their homes when they are not there and leave packages in the lobby. Walmart followed suit soon after, but its delivery people also stocked the fridge with groceries. Amazon and Walmart don’t say how many people use these services, but both recently extended them to other cities.
In 2018, Amazon set its sights on apartment buildings, launching Key for Business and hiring large owners to install the device in their developments. But the push appears to have gathered pace over the past year or so, with Amazon rolling out sellers nationwide. Recent job postings in Miami and San Antonio indicate that Amazon sellers can earn between $ 3,000 and $ 11,000 per month in bonuses and commissions. Amazon won’t say how much it is spending on the effort.
Not all Amazon packages can pass through the front doors. The company itself delivers about 60% of its own packages, according to purchasing data company Rakuten Intelligence; the rest goes through other delivery companies that can’t get in.
Philip T. Evers, professor of logistics at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, said Amazon’s desire to install the device in as many buildings as possible could be a way to prevent competitors from entering.
“The owner can say, ‘You know, I’m going to do this for a business, but maybe we don’t want it for all the delivery businesses out there,” ”he said. He added that Amazon could find other uses for the service, such as asking delivery people to collect returns left in the lobby instead of forcing buyers to go to the post office. Amazon declined to share its future plans.
Jason Goldberg, director of business strategy at marketing firm Publicis Communications, said the device could save Amazon money as workers can drop off more packages during a shift and may have to offer fewer refunds to those whose packages have been stolen.
He heard about the program in December, when a locksmith replacing the doorbell system at his Chicago condominium offered to install Amazon Key for Business for free. Goldberg, who helps manage the building, later allowed Amazon sellers – holding a $ 100 Amazon gift card – to install the device.
“They are giving it away for free because it benefits Amazon more than it does us,” Goldberg said.
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