Amazon Locked Man Out of Smart Home Devices for a Week After False Racism Accusation

Amazon Locked Man Out of Smart Home Devices for a Week After False Racism Accusation
Amazon's Echo Spot device powered by its Alexa digital assistant at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Jan. 11, 2019. (Robert Lever/AFP via Getty Images)
Ryan Morgan

A Maryland man was recently locked out of his Amazon smart home system after a delivery driver reported hearing a racial slur while dropping off a package.

In a June 4 blog post on Medium, Brandon Jackson described his week-long ordeal of being locked out of the Amazon account he used to control many of the devices around his home.

Jackson described the incident as beginning rather innocuously when he tried to use his Amazon Echo Show; a device that can control a variety of connected smart home tools. Jackson first found himself locked out of the device on May 25, a day after receiving a delivery.

After calling an Amazon customer service line, a representative informed him that he should have received an email about the lockout. Jackson said that email provided him with the number to an Amazon executive and Jackson wondered if he was falling for a scam because it’s not typical for an executive at a large multinational corporation to field customer service questions.

“When I connected with the executive, they asked if I knew why my account had been locked,” Jackson wrote. “When I answered I was unsure, their tone turned somewhat accusatory. I was told that the driver who had delivered my package reported receiving racist remarks from my ‘Ring doorbell.’”

The accusation was improbable. Jackson wrote that most delivery drivers in his area are of the same race as him and his family and thus the racial slur allegation was “highly unlikely.” After Jackson investigated further, Amazon revealed the driver reported the racial slur allegation at around 6:05 p.m. on May 24.

Jackson was able to access video footage from around his home at the time of the incident and found that nobody was home at the time of the delivery. Jackson determined that his Eufy automated doorbell had addressed the delivery driver with an automated message: “Excuse me, can I help you?”

“The driver, who was walking away and wearing headphones, must have misinterpreted the message,” Jackson wrote.

Jackson said he promptly shared his video evidence with Amazon but his account remained locked.

“Despite numerous calls and emails, it wasn’t until Friday afternoon [on May 26] that I received confirmation that the investigation had started,” he wrote.

The incident coincided with the long Memorial Day weekend and Jackson didn’t see his account unlocked until Wednesday, May 31, about a full week after the allegation was reported.

NTD News reached out to Amazon regarding Jackson’s description of the incident.

“We work hard to provide customers with a great experience while also ensuring drivers who deliver Amazon packages feel safe,“ an Amazon representative 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.”

Impact of the Lockout

While he was locked out of the Amazon account he typically used for his smart home devices, Jackson said he had already thought ahead about alternate ways to control his devices.
“I already had everything set up so if something did fail I have fallbacks so I wasn’t truly in the dark,” Jackson explained in a subsequent video post about the experience. “But I wrote [my blog post] from the perspective of someone who—what if they didn’t do all that.”
Jackson, who is an engineer at Microsoft and is relatively tech savvy, shared his concerns for owners of smart home devices who don’t have the same knowledge base and find themselves locked out in a similar incident.

He said the incident led him to lose trust in Amazon due to how it kept him locked out through the duration of the ordeal.

“I fully support Amazon taking measures to ensure the safety of their drivers. However, I question why my entire smart home system had to be rendered unusable during their internal investigation,” he wrote.

Jackson also argued that Amazon or other companies shouldn’t be able to block people from using the products they purchased because they expressed the wrong opinions.

“If you bought a toaster right, it doesn’t matter what you did, how bad of a person you were how good of a person you are, you still own the toaster at the end of the day right?” Jackson said. “And if you really did do something that was so horrible and bad that shouldn’t be Amazon or Google or Apple’s call to do anything about that. You know, we already have a system set up for that and that’s what you should be going through.”

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