Warehouse working conditions and the NHS contact tracing app

Categories: research notes
Categories: research notes

From a Twitter thread

A question for @NHSX: Can you assure us of accountability, recourse and fairness all the way down the application stack?

The NHS contact tracing app is using a tonne of technologies, platforms and infrastructures from private and public orgs to get this done.
@NHSX tell us our data is safe, our privacy will be protected. But even if we believe that, there’s far more at stake than personal privacy.

In tech-news today, Tim Bray resigned from his job as Vice President of Amazon Web Services. One of @NHSX’s main suppliers. Bray’s resignation blog is worth reading:

Cutting to the chase:

“At the end of the day, the big problem isn’t the specifics of Covid-19 response. It’s that Amazon treats the humans in the warehouses as fungible units of pick-and-pack potential.

Tim Bray

Reminder: Amazon have at their disposal a greater concentration of wealth than almost any organisation in the history of the modern world.

And their vice president of web services, the man in charge of their digital warehouse, has just quit because during a pandemic, he can’t protect his own co-workers – from their own employers.

This is a story of accountability and recourse. What recourse will we have when the Amazon warehouse goes on fire?

So I have just one specific question, where is the NHS warehousing our contact traced health information, and what sort of working conditions are the warehouse staff enduring?

We have trusted AWS to look after our health knowledge during a crisis. @NHSX can you assure us of accountability and fairness all the way down the application stack?

Background quotes from Bray:

“Stories surfaced of unrest in Amazon warehouses, workers raising alarms about being uninformed, unprotected, and frightened…
“…[workers] organizing for better safety conditions were fired
“…it was clear to any reasonable observer that [the workers] were turfed for whistleblowing.
“…Management could have objected to the event, or demanded that outsiders be excluded, or that leadership be represented, or any number of other things; there was plenty of time. Instead, they just fired the activists.

Tim Bray

NHSX said this in a recent blog about service provision:

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is helping to provide infrastructure and technologies that are enabling NHSX and its partners to quickly and securely launch the new Covid-19 response platform for critical public services at a time when it is important for public and private sector organisations to work together to combat this crisis. AWS has the highest score awarded by the NHS Data Security & Protection (DSP) Toolkit.


I suspect the DSP toolkit neglected to inquire about industrial relations, isn’t it time?

And more to the point, isn’t this kind of issue exactly what good data ethics frameworks should be testing for? Ethics all the way down the stack.