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Amazon puts 'creepy' AI cameras in UK delivery vans

Big Bezos is watching you

Updated Amazon is installing AI-powered cameras in delivery vans to keep tabs on its drivers in the UK.

The technology was first deployed, with numerous errors that reportedly denied drivers' bonuses after malfunctions, in the US. Last year, the internet giant produced a corporate video detailing how the cameras monitor drivers' driving behavior for safety reasons. The same system is now being rolled out to vehicles in the UK. 

Multiple cameras are placed under the front mirror. One is directed at the person behind the wheel, one faces the road, and two are located on either side to provide a wider view. The cameras do not record constant video, and are monitored by software built by Netradyne, a computer-vision startup focused on driver safety. This code uses machine-learning algorithms to figure out what's going on in and around the vehicle. Delivery drivers can also activate the cameras to record footage if they want to, such as if someone's trying to rob them or run them off the road. There is no microphone, for what it's worth.

Audio alerts are triggered by some behaviors, such as if a driver fails to brake at a stop sign or is driving too fast. Other actions are silently logged, such as if the driver doesn't wear a seat-belt or if a camera's view is blocked. Amazon, reportedly in the US at least, records workers and calculates from their activities a score that affects their pay; drivers have previously complained of having bonuses unfairly deducted for behavior the computer system wrongly classified as reckless.

An Amazon spokesperson previously told The Register the cameras were installed to encourage or help workers drive more safely and help folks keep track of their packages. But not everyone is pleased about the technology coming to Blighty. Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, a non-profit organization focused on privacy, said the cameras were creepy and should not be deployed.

"Plans for this excessive, intrusive, and creepy worker surveillance should be immediately stopped," Carlo told The Register in a statement.

"Amazon has a terrible track record of intensely monitoring their lowest wage earners using Orwellian, often highly inaccurate, spying technologies, and then using that data to their disadvantage. This kind of directed surveillance could actually risk distracting drivers, let alone demoralizing them. It is bad for workers' rights and awful for privacy in our country," she said.

Amazon uses all sorts of tactics to monitor its workers. Employees previously told El Reg that being a warehouse worker during the COVID-19 pandemic was especially taxing. Increased rates of incoming orders forced staff to work faster at the cost of higher risks of workplace injuries. It's not surprising the biz is now increasingly surveilling workers outside the warehouse too. 

A spokesperson for Amazon could not be reached for comment. ®

Updated to add

A spokesperson for Amazon has been in touch, responding to the tech giant's critics:

We make no apology for investing in safety technology to keep drivers, customers and communities safer – it's what any responsible business would do. We've already seen the technology make a big difference by reducing accidents by 48 percent after deployment in the US, and campaigners who suggest we're implementing this technology for any reason other than safety are simply mistaken.

The biz has also penned an essay about that 48 percent here. According to the internet goliath, following the introduction of its monitoring technology, it's seen stop sign and signal violations drop by 77 percent; unsafe following distance by 50 percent; driving without a seatbelt by 60 percent, and distracted driving by 75 percent.

On the subject of pay-related scores being calculated for drivers, the Amazon spokesperson told us that won't happen in the UK just yet.

"Scoring functionality will not be initially available in the UK as we will be gradually adding functionality and giving delivery service partners and drivers sufficient time to familiarise themselves with the technology," the PR person said.

"This functionality when available has only one purpose of keeping the drivers and the public safe through encouraging drivers to improve their scores on their own and giving our partners an idea of overall fleet safety."

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