In early 2021, Amazon installed AI-powered cameras in its delivery vehicles in Los Angeles. Derek, a delivery driver at the facility, said his van’s camera began to falsely penalise him whenever cars cut him off, frequently in Los Angeles traffic.
“It’s upsetting when I didn’t do anything,” a Los Angeles delivery driver told Motherboard. “Every time I need to make a right-hand turn, it inevitably happens. A car cuts me off to move into my lane, and the camera, in this really dystopian dark, robotic voice, shouts at me.”
Amazon said in February that as an “innovation” to “keep drivers safe,” it will put cameras created by the AI-tech startup Netradyne in its delivery vans. Since then, the company claims to have witnessed a decrease in accidents and other safety infractions.
When the cameras detect potentially dangerous “events,” these incidents are factored into workers’ performance rankings, which can affect their likelihood of receiving bonuses or rewards. They may also have an impact on the revenue of the Amazon delivery service partner.
These occurrences determine whether Amazon drivers are rated “bad,” “fair,” “good,” or “fantastic.” Amazon Delivery Service Providers (DSPs) might receive bonuses to spend toward repairs, damages, and other expenses if their drivers’ total weekly rankings are “excellent.”
“Amazon uses these cameras allegedly to make sure they have a safer driving workforce, but they’re using them not to pay delivery companies,” one owner of a Washington DSP told Motherboard.
“One of the safety improvements we’ve made this year is rolling out industry-leading telematics and camera-based safety technology across our delivery fleet,” Amazon said in a statement to Insider. “This technology provides drivers real-time alerts to help them stay safe when they are on the road.”
Since deploying the cameras in more than half of its US fleet, the company has noticed some significant improvements: a 48% reduction in accidents, a 77% reduction in stop signs and signal breakage, a 50% reduction in following distance, a 60% decrease in driving without a seatbelt, and a 75% reduction in driving distraction.
The Washington DSP’s owner stated that he had not been trained on how to operate the cameras. According to Amazon, each delivery company received camera training and was required to notify its personnel about how occurrences impacted the DSP’s results.
According to Motherboard, some Amazon drivers have started covering up their vans’ cameras with stickers to avoid obtaining fines. While other employees wore sunglasses to prevent the cameras from misinterpreting eye movement as distracted driving.
“If we brought up problems with the cameras, managers would brush it under the table, they’re only worried about getting the packages out,” a Kentucky delivery driver told Motherboard. “So we cover them up. They don’t tell us to, but it’s kind of like ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.'”
“The Netradyne cameras that Amazon installed in our vans have been nothing but a nightmare,” a former Amazon driver in Alabama told Motherboard. “I personally did not feel any more safe with a camera watching my every move.”
Drivers also complained that appealing incorrectly flagged events with Amazon is difficult and that their attempts were frequently ignored. However, Amazon claimed that appeals were personally examined and that incorrect events had no impact on DSPs or drivers.
“It was both a privacy infringement and a breach of confidence,” an Amazon driver told the Thomson Reuters Foundation about the new camera installation.