Why it matters: Amazon's controversial use of cameras in its delivery vans is drawing even more criticism after a slew of in-van surveillance videos appeared on Reddit. While the videos themselves are innocent, it has brought more debate over the constant monitoring of drivers and the privacy implications of this practice.
Back in early 2021, Amazon added to the public criticism of how it treats employees when it started using AI-equipped cameras to warn drivers if they're breaking road rules or engaging in unsafe practices. The footage is also used by Amazon for evaluation purposes, and the cameras may take photographs of the driver for security or identity verification purposes.
There was more anger after it was revealed delivery personnel had to sign a "Vehicle Technology and Biometric Consent" agreement, as a "condition of delivering Amazon packages," meaning they couldn't deliver packages without agreeing to be monitored.
Now, Vice reports that a wave of in-van videos has landed on Reddit, some of them featuring monitor screens that were recorded on phones.
In one video posted on the r/AmazonDSPDrivers subreddit on July 3, a monitor can be seen on a desk showing an Amazon driver in a van. There's also a timecode, a speed indicator showing 0 MPH, and a green box representing the AI tracking system.
The clip shows a small French bulldog jumping into the van and on the driver's lap, prompting those watching to have a discussion about what its breed might be. Four different voices take part in the conversation.
Vice writes that the desk setup in the video suggests it is an Amazon delivery service partner (DSP). These courier contractors usually operate out of Amazon warehouses, where they are given a desk like the one in the video to, among other things, monitor drivers' actions on the road.
Many of the clips, some taken directly from the recordings themselves, are being posted by those who aren't the subject of the videos. It's unclear who posts them or how they gained access. One current Amazon delivery driver said that the drivers themselves did not have access to the videos.
The cameras, which operate 100 percent of the time, don't record audio and can't be used to watch drivers in real time. They feature artificial intelligence that identifies 16 signals based on what's happening around the van and a driver's actions. Anything illegal, such as failing to stop or speeding, will trigger audio responses, including "No stop detected" and "Please slow down." Unsafe driving such as braking too hard won't bring audio alerts but will see the footage uploaded to a secure portal for Amazon to examine. The company, a driver, and a DSP can also request an upload.
"Delivery service partners have access to the Netradyne portal where the in-vehicle cameras automatically upload video content when there is a safety incident," Amazon spokesperson Simone Griffin told Vice. "Delivery service partners can choose to share the video footage with their employees. However, for privacy reasons, publishing the content externally is a violation of program policies."