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Amazon Is Trying To Get 'Keys' To Apartment Buildings All Over The Country
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Amazon Is Trying To Get 'Keys' To Apartment Buildings All Over The Country


NEW YORK (AP) — Amazon is sick of answering doors.

The e-commerce behemoth is pressuring landlords across the country, sometimes with financial incentives, to give its drivers the ability to unlock apartment-building doors using a mobile device.

The service, dubbed Key for Business, is marketed as a way to reduce stolen packages by making it simple to leave them in lobbies rather than outside. Amazon benefits because it allows delivery workers to make their rounds more quickly, and fewer stolen packages reduce costs and may give Amazon an advantage over competitors.

Those who have installed the device claim that it reduces the constant buzzing of delivery people and is a safer alternative to giving out codes to a large number of delivery people.

However, as the Amazon program, which was first announced in 2018, gains traction, it may raise security and privacy concerns. The company stated that it conducts background checks on delivery people and that they can unlock doors only when they have a package to scan. However, tenants may be unaware that Amazon drivers have access to their building's front doors because Amazon leaves it up to the building to notify the tenants.

According to Ashkan Soltani, a privacy researcher and former senior tech advisor to former President Barack Obama, any internet-connected device, including Amazon's, can be hacked, and bad actors can try to unlock the doors.

“You're essentially introducing a foreign internet-connected device into an otherwise internal network,” said Soltani, a former chief technologist at the United States Federal Trade Commission.

Amazon has not responded to inquiries about possible hacking.

The company has already installed the device in thousands of apartment buildings in the United States, but declined to provide a specific number. It does, however, leave a clue by 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, while in another neighborhood, the sticker was on two of seven buildings.

Amazon salespeople have been fanning out across the country to knock on doors, make cold calls, or approach building managers on the street to persuade them to install the device, and 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 occasionally throws in a $100 Amazon gift card to whoever lets them in.

Soltani said he first heard about Key for Business when he was approached in April by two Amazon salespeople who wanted access to the building where he lives in Oakland, California. Building management refused, and no device was installed.

Amazon had better luck with Kenton Girard, a Chicago landlord who agreed to have the device installed in four of his buildings to reduce package theft, which had gotten so bad that he was considering building a package drop box outside.

Girard of the Amazon device said, "I would have paid to have it done."

Only the U.S. Postal Service currently has a way to enter apartment buildings to get to mailboxes. UPS says it tested a way for its workers to enter buildings without buzzing tenants in 2018, teaming up with a smart-lock company. But that test ended, and UPS declined to say why.

FedEx did not respond to a request for comment for this article.

For years, Amazon has wanted to walk through people's front doors. In 2017, it launched a service that allows shoppers to let delivery people come into their home when they aren't there and leave packages in the foyer. Walmart did the same shortly after, but its delivery people also stocked the fridge with groceries.

Amazon set its sights on apartment buildings in 2018, launching Key for Business and signing up large landlords to install the device in their developments. However, the push appears to have accelerated in the last year or so, with Amazon deploying salespeople nationwide. According to recent job postings in Miami and San Antonio, Amazon salespeople can earn $3,000 to $11,000 a month in bonuses and commissions.

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According to shopping data firm Rakuten Intelligence, Amazon delivers about 60% of its own packages; the rest are delivered by other delivery companies who are unable to enter through front doors.

According to Philip T. Evers, a logistics professor at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business, Amazon's desire to get the device into as many buildings as possible may be a way for the company to keep competitors out.

“The landlord may say, ‘You know, I'll do this for one company, but maybe we don't want it for every delivery company out there,'” he said, adding that Amazon could find other uses for the service, such as having delivery people pick up returns left in the lobby rather than making shoppers schlep to the post office.

According to Jason Goldberg, chief commerce strategy officer at marketing firm Publicis Communications, the device could save Amazon money because workers will be able to drop off more packages during a shift and will have to offer fewer refunds to those whose packages were stolen.

He learned about the program in December, when a locksmith who was replacing the buzzer system at his Chicago condo building offered to install Amazon Key for Business for free. Goldberg, who helps manage the building, later allowed Amazon salespeople to install the device while dangling a $100 Amazon gift card.

“They give it away for free because Amazon benefits more than we do,” Goldberg explained.

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