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This article was published on February 4, 2021

Privacy advocates say Amazon’s plans to put AI cameras in vans will create ‘mobile surveillance machines’

The video camera system will record drivers on the road "100% of the time"

Privacy advocates say Amazon’s plans to put AI cameras in vans will create ‘mobile surveillance machines’ Image by: Tony Webster

Amazon’s plans to install AI-powered cameras in its delivery vans have been slammed by privacy advocates as “the largest expansion of corporate surveillance in human history.”

The e-commerce giant has been testing a system that provides real-time monitoring of the roads and drivers.

In an instructional video first reported by The Information, Amazon said the cameras record drivers on their route “100% of the time.”

The company told Reuters that it recently started rolling out the tech across its delivery fleet:

This technology will provide drivers real-time alerts to help them stay safe when they are on the road.

The system, called Driveri, was developed by transport tech startup Netradyne. It’s comprised of four separate HD cameras: a road-facing view, a driver-facing view, and two side views.

[Read: How much does it cost to buy, own, and run an EV? It’s not as much as you think]

The system uploads recorded footage when one of 16 safety signals are triggered, such as driver drowsiness and speeding.

Credit: Amazon
An audio alert is provided for four of these triggers, while nine upload the video without providing an alert. The remaining three can be manually uploaded by the driver.

The shared footage can be used by Amazon’s last-mile trust and safety team, for coaching by the driver’s Delivery Service Partner (DSP) program, and for investigations such as theft or property damage.

Amazon said the system has no audio or live-view functionality, although it will send them alerts when the camera flags certain safety triggers.

The drivers can turn off the cameras facing them — but only while they’re stopped. They automatically start recording again when the ignition is turned back on.

“Our intention with this technology is to set up drivers for success, and provide them support in being safer on-road and handling incidents if and when they happen,” said Karolina Haraldsdottir, a senior manager for last-mile safety.

Amazon said the system would encourage good driver habits and on-road safety, but critics warn it’s creating “mobile surveillance vans.”

Evan Greer, the director of digital rights group Fight for the Future, tweeted that “every Amazon vehicle will now also be an Amazon surveillance camera.”

Basically this means any time you see an Amazon delivery vehicle in your neighborhood, it will be watching and recording you. The potential for abuse is staggering.

She added that Amazon will likely create easy ways to share the footage with law enforcement agencies.

Drivers have also expressed concerns about the plans. A member of an Amazon drivers’ subreddit said the firm will use the tech to “monitor and punish us for every little thing.”

Amazon’s history of surveilling workers suggests their concerns are well-placed.

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