In a sign of how cutthroat competition for gig work has become, phones hanging from trees outside Amazon distribution centers and Whole Foods stores have become a common sight in the Chicago suburbs. Sources tell Bloomberg that the "phone trees" are used to game Amazon's system of dispatching orders to contract drivers via its Amazon Flex app. Sources say the app sends fast-deliver "Instant Offers" to the closest driver detected by the system, meaning that a phone in a tree outside the distribution center will get the offer ahead of a driver who might be sitting in a nearby car. Drivers have been seen placing the phones in trees and syncing them with their own devices before they wait for an alert.
Bloomberg suggests by way of a source that some of the more unscrupulous behavior may be carried out by intermediaries who open a Flex account and then charge drivers who wouldn't qualify for an account of their own—say, because they don't have a valid license—a fee to pass them routes. The source says intermediaries gaming the Flex app pay drivers just $10 per hour to complete routes that pay $18 per hour. In an internal email seen by Bloomberg, Amazon "said it would investigate the matter but would be unable to divulge the outcome of its inquiry to delivery drivers." Engadget notes that in an effort to fight other attempts to game the Flex system by using multiple accounts, Amazon now requires drivers to provide selfies. (Read more Amazon.com stories.)