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Should Amazon drivers be able to unlock apartment building doors?

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

At first glance, this story appears to prompt the sarcastic question, what could possibly go wrong? But looking a bit further, perhaps it’s not quite as crazy as it sounds. Amazon is pushing a new service going by the name “Key for Business.” It’s being offered to the owners of apartment buildings, initially in larger cities, and it offers a way for drivers (particularly Amazon’s drivers) to unlock the front door and go into the lobby to leave packages. You’re to be forgiven if that idea sounds kind of alarming at first glance because most of us probably don’t think of Amazon drivers as having been vetted as carefully as security guards. But a closer look at how this technology is being used might make some building owners and residents feel a bit more comfortable. (NY Post)

Amazon is tired of ringing doorbells.

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 reduces costs and could give Amazon an edge over competitors.

As described, Key for Business doesn’t involve handing out physical keys, pass cards, or access codes to drivers. It’s a device that will “buzz” the front door of the apartment building open for the driver if they are holding a package addressed to someone in the building and they scan it with their usual tracking device. It would not be usable by anyone else or even by the driver during their off-hours or when they have no package addressed to the building.

The first thing that probably leaps to mind for many of us is that this system just seems like an invitation to hackers to be able to make it through the front door with ease. When asked to comment on the potential for hacking, Amazon did not comment.

But if we can get past the hacking question, it does seem as if there are some potential benefits here. Leaving packages outside of an apartment building in a city the way Amazon generally does with single-family homes in the suburbs, will result in them almost certainly being stolen. Getting the packages inside of the lobby might at least limit the number of potential thieves to the number of renters who live there and many lobbies these days have security cameras.

Also, the device only offers access to the lobby. It doesn’t get the driver any closer to being able to physically enter someone’s apartment. Looked at from that angle, the security concerns might not be all that bad.

Of course, this is still Amazon we’re talking about. It’s a corporation that places essentially no value on your privacy. In fact, they’ve built an empire based on the ability to vacuum up all of your online data, frequently without you even realizing it. But any change that leads to more packages being stolen or, even worse, people’s apartments being robbed, would be very bad for business indeed.

I tend to be something of a Luddite when it comes to new technology that further places control of our lives and our personal spaces in the digital hands of artificial intelligence and internet magic. But as someone who still orders products through Amazon on a regular basis (I know… I know), I can see some advantages to a system like this for people who live in apartments. Now, if they start asking for the ability to unlock the front door to my house, that’s where we’ll be drawing a very bright line in the sand.