Amazon’s mission: Get a ‘key’ to your building

Amazon’s mission: Get a ‘key’ to your building

Those who have installed the device say it reduces the constant buzzing by delivery people and is a safer alternative to giving out codes to scores of delivery people. But the Amazon program, first announced in 2018, may stir security and privacy concerns as it gains traction. The company said that it does background checks on delivery people and that they can unlock doors only when they have a package in hand to scan. But tenants may not know that Amazon drivers have access to their building’s front doors, since Amazon leaves it up to the building to notify them.

The online shopping giant is pushing landlords around 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 pitched as a way to cut down on stolen packages by making it easy to leave them in lobbies and not outside. Amazon benefits because it enables delivery workers to make their rounds faster. And fewer stolen packages reduce costs and could give Amazon an edge over competitors. Ashkan Soltani, a privacy researcher who was a senior tech advisor to former President Barack Obama, said that any device connected to the internet could be hacked, including the Amazon one, and bad actors could try to unlock the doors.

“You’re essentially introducing a foreign internet-connected device into an otherwise internal network,” said Soltani, who was also a former chief technologist at the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. Amazon didn’t respond to questions about potential hacking.

The company has already installed the device in thousands of U.S. apartment buildings but declined to give a specific number. It sometimes leaves a clue, placing a round sticker with the Amazon smile logo on buzzers where the device has been installed. On one New York City street, the sticker was on three of 11 buildings. In another neighborhood, two of seven buildings had the sticker. Amazon salespeople have been fanning out to cities across the country to knock on doors, make cold calls or approach building managers on the street to urge them to install the device. The company has even partnered with local locksmiths to push it on building managers while they fix locks. Amazon installs the device for free and sometimes throws in a $100 Amazon gift card to whoever lets them in. Soltani said he learned about Key for Business when he was approached by two Amazon salespeople in April who wanted access to the building where he lives in Oakland, California. Building management declined, and no device was installed.

Amazon had better luck with Kenton Girard. A Chicago landlord, Girard agreed to have the device installed in four of his buildings as a way to reduce package theft, which was getting so bad that he was considering building a package drop box outside. “I would have paid to have it done,” Girard said of the Amazon device. Currently, only the U.S. Postal Service has a way to enter apartment buildings in order to get to mailboxes. UPS says it has tested a way for its workers to enter buildings without buzzing tenants, teaming up with a smart-lock company in 2018. But that test ended, 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 home.

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