BALTIMORE (LifeSiteNews) — Concerns about the potential for “smart” technology to be weaponized against people in a Chinese-style social credit system appeared to have been vindicated last weekend after a Baltimore man reported being locked out of his “smart home” devices in a kind of “digital exile” after an Amazon delivery driver inaccurately reported having heard a racist comment through the man’s video doorbell.
In a June 4 article published on Medium, Microsoft engineer Brandon Jackson said he had “finally regained access to my Amazon account after an unexpected and unwarranted lockout that lasted nearly a week” at the end of last month.
“Due to this experience, I am seriously considering discontinuing my use of Amazon Echo devices and will caution others about this incident,” he wrote.
While Jackson explained he wasn’t actually prevented from getting into his house (because most of his systems were subhosted), he was still blocked from accessing much of the functionality of his automated devices. Moreover, he said anyone whose devices were set up exclusively through Amazon, rather than subhosted, could actually lose access to their doors and other crucial infrastructure in a similar situation.
According to Jackson, he discovered he had lost access to his smart home devices on May 25, a day after an Amazon delivery driver left a package at the house.
Jackson, who was away from home at the time, said he reached out to Amazon’s customer service for help and “was told that the driver who had delivered my package reported receiving racist remarks from” the video doorbell system.
Describing the situation as “baffling,” Jackson (who is black) said none of his family members were even home at the time of the delivery, precluding anybody from making any racial remarks even if they were prone to do so (something he described as “highly unlikely.”)
He also reviewed the multiple security cameras he has outside his home and was able to confirm that nothing was said except for his video doorbell’s automated response: “Excuse me, can I help you?”
“The driver, who was walking away and wearing headphones, must have misinterpreted the message,” Jackson said. “Nevertheless, by the following day, my Amazon account was locked, and all my Echo devices were logged out.”
Jackson said he sent Amazon “video evidence from multiple angles.” However, his evidence “appeared to have little impact on their decision to disable my account.”
“Let me be clear: I fully support Amazon taking measures to ensure the safety of their drivers,” he said. “However, I question why my entire smart home system had to be rendered unusable during their internal investigation.”
According to Jackson, he called and emailed Amazon “numerous” times but didn’t receive confirmation that an investigation had been launched until the following afternoon.
“I was told to expect a response within two business days, meaning not until Tuesday of the following week at the earliest,” he said.
The issue was finally resolved on Wednesday, May 31, but he had received “no follow-up email to inform me of the resolution.”
In a statement to the U.K. Daily Mail, Amazon said it had determined through its investigation that Jackson “did not act inappropriately.”
‘We work hard to provide customers with a great experience while also ensuring drivers who deliver Amazon packages feel safe,” the company said. “In this case, we learned through our investigation that the customer did not act inappropriately, and we’re working directly with the customer to resolve their concerns while also looking at ways to prevent a similar situation from happening again.”
In a Friday YouTube video created to address questions concerning the incident, Jackson argued that, even if he had said or done something wrong, the issue should not be litigated by Amazon or any other corporation.
According to Jackson, customers who purchase any kind of product – ranging from Amazon smart technology to a generic toaster – should own those items regardless of their personal behavior.
“For those saying I’m okay with this happening to a ‘real racist’ I’m not,” he said. “If someone bought and paid for a device, they should be able to use it at least on their own property/ if it doesn’t hurt anyone else. I’m only pushing this story so that this WONT happen to anyone else.”
“Regardless of [your] race, religion, beliefs, if you paid for it, you should OWN it,” he said.
Jackson’s experience lends credence to concerns expressed by personal privacy advocates about the implications of centralized technology and the potential for citizens to lose access to basic rights and privileges if they cut against powerful ideologies and established norms.
Communist China famously operates a fledgling “social credit system” whereby a citizen’s access to resources and freedoms can be largely determined by whether or not he complies with the dictates of the communist superstate. While the scoring system is currently small and localized, the nation’s communist authorities reportedly have plans to make it nationwide and mandatory.
An episode of the dystopian TV show Black Mirror depicted a westernized and far expanded version of China’s social credit system, in which failure to conform to arbitrary standards could swiftly cut individuals off from freedoms, privileges, social interactions, and even basic necessities.
LifeSiteNews previously noted that the moves to create COVID-19 “vaccine passports” over the past several years could pave the way for such a surveillance superstructure by developing a centralized mechanism to easily authorize or shut off an individual’s access to transportation, public venues, and even grocery stores.