Amazon's security guards follow and film people they think are reporters near their headquarters. It's creepy and Big Brother-like.
It's no secret that downtown Seattle — specifically, South Lake Union and Denny Triangle — is dominated by Amazon.
With offices spread over more than 33 buildings and a Seattle workforce edging past 40,000, the area can sometimes feel like Amazon's private city.
That feeling was driven home on a recent walk through the neighborhood. About an hour into my walk, I turned the corner onto 7th Avenue where the company's cashierless test store for employees, Amazon Go, is located.
A photojournalist had set up a camera on the sidewalk to film construction across the street. Two security guards were gathered around her asking questions and seemingly calling something in on their radio.
I snapped the above photo and walked past them.
As I did, the security guard pictured followed me, holding up his smartphone to my face. I stopped and asked him what he was doing. He replied that it is company policy to film all media personnel in the area. I had never identified myself as media.
After the guards left, I went back to the photojournalist and asked her about the incident. The photojournalist said Amazon security has tried to throw its weight around when she's photographed in the area before.
"In my opinion, I think they think they own the city, and can patrol it how they want. But no one will stop me from taking photos on a public street," the photojournalist told Business Insider, asking to remain anonymous so as not to jeopardize her relationship with Amazon.
It's possible this is a case of security guards on a power-trip.
"This is not our policy," Amazon spokesman Adam Sedo told Business Insider in a statement Wednesday. "We're investigating why this happened and taking steps to ensure it doesn't happen again."
Amazon contracts its security through Security Industry Specialists, which has been embroiled in controversy over the last year. In December, a class-action lawsuit was filed against the company, which provides security to numerous Fortune 500 companies, alleging that the company "failed to properly calculate overtime compensation" for hourly employees.
In May, Amazon guards employed through SIS complained of favoritism, disrespect in the workplace, a lack of raises, and failure to put in a prayer room for Muslim officers. Last August, 150 labor advocates and tech workers, many of whom work for Amazon, demonstrated at the company's headquarters to call for improved working conditions for the officers.
SIS has not yet responded to Business Insider's request for comment about the filming incident.
One former SIS security guard contacted by Business Insider declined to comment on the existence of such a media policy due to a non-disclosure agreement. A current guard denied that such a policy exists.
[Update: This post was updated with a statement from Amazon.]