‘Watching Us 24-7’: Amazon’s New AI Surveillance Program Prompts Employee Backlash

(Photo by MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP via Getty Images)

Dylan Housman Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent
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Amazon delivery vans are being equipped with new AI-powered surveillance cameras to track drivers’ every move, and some are unwilling to go along with the company’s latest initiative.

The new four-lens cameras will analyze the driver’s face and body to detect behavior like yawning, checking a cellphone or not wearing a seatbelt, according to Reuters. The new cameras, and the policies that come with them, have drawn the scrutiny of five Democratic senators due to privacy and pressure concerns.

Drivers are required to sign a consent agreement by March 23, allowing Amazon to film them at work once cameras are installed in all the company’s vans. The agreement gives Amazon the right to share the footage with “third-party service providers” and “Amazon group affiliates,” according to Reuters.

The cameras are only the latest surveillance tool used by Amazon to keep a close eye on its labor. The company’s “Mentor” app monitors driving, phone use and location of delivery workers. Amazon Flex requires drivers to post a selfie before starting their shift, in addition to clocking into work.

The new cameras are a bridge too far for some employees. One driver in the Denver area chose to quit rather than sign Amazon’s consent agreement, according to Reuters. (RELATED: Popular Security Camera Company Gave ’20-Year-Old Interns’ A ‘Super Admin’ Privilege To Look In On Americans)

The driver, a man named “Vic” who decided instead to get a job with a different delivery company, described being fed up with the surveillance to Reuters: “I wanted to show up and do my job — not to be watched all the time — and that was not an option.”

The Mentor app would often dock his performance for “checking his phone” if he drove over a speed bump causing his phone to rattle, he said. The surveillance cameras, which he occasionally had to drive with as they were installed in more and more vans, started recording him every time he yawned or touched his phone and shared the footage with his dispatcher.

“We are all out there to do a job. And if they don’t trust us to do the job — if they feel like they need to be watching us 24-7, why did they hire us? Why are we on the payroll?” Vic told Reuters.

Vic chose to hand in his two weeks’ notice rather than agree to the camera policy, and other drivers are reportedly unhappy with the situation. Some have complained that Amazon may sell the information gathered to other companies or the government, while others say the standards being enforced are too strict.

Amazon told Reuters that the measures were a safety protocol.

“[The company] recently started rolling out industry leading camera-based safety technology across our delivery fleet. This technology will provide drivers real-time alerts to help them stay safe when they are on the road,” the spokeswoman told the outlet.

The senators who wrote to Amazon expressed concern that drivers couldn’t opt out of the new program even if they have stellar safety records. Vic told Reuters he agreed. “It was both a privacy violation, and a breach of trust, and I was not going to stand for it.”