Tech

Amazon delivery drivers must consent to invasive new surveillance or be fired

Newly installed cameras in delivery vans will monitor drivers' every move.

Seattle, USA – Apr 8, 2020: Late in the day an Amazon Prime delivery van parked by Target city on 3rd avenue in downtown.
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Amazon is requiring its nationwide workforce of delivery drivers sign a “biometric consent” form that will allow the company to monitor their location, driving behavior, and even facial expressions while inside the cab. According to Vice, drivers who refuse to sign the form are guaranteed termination.

The company announced in February that it would install artificial intelligence-powered cameras in its fleet of around 75,000 branded vans. It has said the move is intended to improve health and safety by alerting drivers when they’re exhibiting risky behavior.

No voice — Some drivers are understandably concerned about the new technology, as Amazon will be collecting data on everything from miles driven, speed, acceleration, braking, turns, and following distance. The cameras can even sense when a driver yawns (or appears to), and certain behaviors will trigger the sending of footage to Amazon, which could be used to reprimand drivers later. Reuters has reported some drivers have quit instead of signing the consent form.

VICE

No say? No way — In Amazon’s defense, it’s not unheard of for a delivery camera to collect data on its drivers. UPS vans are famously outfitted with a host of sensors that help the company to improve productivity by identifying places where drivers can modify their behavior to improve safety and delivery times. But, unlike those driving for Amazon, drivers at UPS are unionized and have a say in how the data is used. When UPS first introduced smart sensing technology, the union representing its drivers was able to negotiate guardrails for how collected data can be used. Amazon drivers don’t even technically work for the company but rather smaller, independent contracting companies, and have no such leverage.

"I had one driver who refused to sign," the owner of an Amazon delivery company told Vice. "It's a heart-breaking conversation when someone tells you that you're their favorite person they have ever worked for, but Amazon just micromanages them too much."

Amazon workers at a warehouse in Alabama are currently trying to unionize in hopes of gaining more say over their working conditions. The company has pushed back hard, arguing that a union would just take money from workers in the form of annual dues.

In a rather salty statement to Input, Amazon downplayed the concerns, saying:

Netradyne cameras are used to help keep drivers and the communities where we deliver safe. We piloted the technology from April to October 2020 on over two million miles of delivery routes and the results produced remarkable driver and community safety improvements—accidents decreased 48 percent, stop sign violations decreased 20 percent, driving without a seatbelt decreased 60 percent, and distracted driving decreased 45 percent. Don’t believe the self-interested critics who claim these cameras are intended for anything other than safety.

Working conditions — Workers at Amazon are already pushed to extreme lengths to improve their productivity and meet stringent quotas, which has led to an injury rate in its warehouses that’s above the national average. The cameras will now effectively act as a manager standing over a worker’s shoulder, and that might understandably add stress to a job that’s already tough and doesn’t even pay very well.

Though starting salaries at Amazon are above the federal minimum wage, data from Indeed suggests delivery van drivers for Amazon make roughly $37,152 per year. And a staggering number of workers at the company rely on public assistance to get by. This despite the fact it’s been shown time and time again that good working conditions can increase productivity and decrease turnover. And it’s not like Amazon is strapped for cash.

UPDATE: This story was updated to include a statement from Amazon.