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Senators question Amazon on use of cameras to monitor delivery drivers

The cameras could put "unsafe pressure" on drivers and violate their privacy rights, the five Democratic lawmakers say.

Laura Hautala Former Senior Writer
Laura wrote about e-commerce and Amazon, and she occasionally covered cool science topics. Previously, she broke down cybersecurity and privacy issues for CNET readers. Laura is based in Tacoma, Washington, and was into sourdough before the pandemic.
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Laura Hautala
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Amazon is rolling out an AI-powered camera for delivery vans that monitors for driver safety problems. Senators Wednesday asked questions about the privacy and safety concerns the program raises.

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A group of five US senators sent an open letter Wednesday to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos asking questions about Amazon's use of Driver surveillance videos to monitor its delivery van drivers. The program, first reported in February, aims cameras powered by AI from software maker Netradyne at drivers in order to flag safety problems. The senators echoed concerns that drivers have raised over privacy and increased discipline in a job that is already highly demanding.

In the letter, Massachusetts Sens. Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren join Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Bernie Sanders of Vermont in commending Amazon for wanting to improve driver safety, but added that they're concerned the camera program could have the opposite effect. (All but Sanders, who is an Independent, are Democrats.)

"Although Amazon may intend for its use of Driveri cameras to improve safety on the road, this surveillance could, in practice, create significant pressure on drivers to speed up on their routes, which can lead to driver fatigue and decreased safety," the lawmakers wrote.

Amazon didn't respond to a request for comment.

The senators asked Bezos for detailed descriptions of how the driver video data is stored, accessed and shared, and which third parties can access it. They also asked whether the footage will be used as part of Amazon's discipline system for drivers, and whether contractors who don't work directly for Amazon will also be subject to the surveillance.

In previous reports, drivers have said they worry the cameras will increase pressure on them to work even faster than they're already required to now and lead to discipline for behaviors that are hard to avoid under intense time constraints. According to Motherboard, drivers are sometimes expected to deliver 400 packages in 10-hour shifts, making it hard to avoid things like leaving a package in plain view or throwing it over a gate. Some drivers said that to keep up with the workload they feel compelled to urinate or even defecate outside when no bathroom is available.

The camera system can give audio alerts to drivers when they detect things like distracted driving or rolling through stop signs. The system also uploads video when drivers brake or take turns too hard or cause "excessive G force." According to a video from Amazon explaining the program, drivers can also turn off the camera while they're taking breaks. Additionally, the cameras won't provide a live feed or allow snooping on drivers at work.