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Amazon is expanding its employee tracking capacity with advanced AI cameras. These devices will monitor delivery drivers, who are being asked to sign biometric consent forms. The move, which would allow Amazon to institute new levels of bio-surveillance, raises some serious questions about employee privacy.
Apr 06, 2021 · 3 min read
Amazon is installing AI-powered cameras in the vehicles of their delivery drivers. The camera system (sourced from Netradyne, an Indian company) can run continuously, tracking a driver's location, movements, and even facial expressions. This last point is particularly worrying, as it necessitates the collection of biometric data.
Amazon’s drivers are being offered a simple choice: consent to have their biometric data collected, or lose their jobs.
Biometric data, or biometrics, are unique and measurable physical attributes that identify a person. There are over 20 biometric identifiers including fingerprints, facial recognition, DNA, and hand geometry.
Unlike passwords and usernames, biometric data is permanent — if it leaks, it can't just be changed at source. That’s why many believe the collection and storage of biometric data is a risk, even if the company claims to use it ethically. One data breach could permanently compromise a person's biometric identifiers.
Amazon says the new cameras will help its drivers stay safe on the road. An AI system like Netradyne's can analyze the driver’s face and identify their level of fatigue, preventing accidents. Alternatively, it could track eye movement and notice if drivers were looking at their phones.
It's worth remembering, however, that many Amazon delivery drivers claim to have been pressured into speeding or driving while fatigued by their superiors within the company. Some drivers claim that they are expected to keep up with the delivery rates regardless of weather conditions or any other variables. Failing to do so can result in drivers being ‘written up’ or even fired.
If that's true, the justification for installing a bio-surveillance system is much more tedious.
Employee monitoring certainly didn’t start with Amazon. From pre-digital punch-cards to key-logging software for modern remote workers , there's a long history of companies trying to track employee activity. These practices are intensifying, however, now that many people are working from home instead of the office.
In most countries, monitoring employees is legal — to an extent. In the European Union, for example, employers have to maintain some basic standards:
For Amazon, operating around the world, these rules often don't apply. Combined with a track record on disregarding employee health and safety, this move to increase driver surveillance doesn't bode well.
While AI cameras are a particularly drastic example of monitoring, companies have been tracking employees for years, using a variety of methods.
There are many good reasons to monitor employee activity, from data security to productivity. However, collecting too much data can directly impact on the individual freedoms and privacy of employees. Furthermore, gathering employee data creates a tempting treasure-trove for hackers and cybercriminals.
Amazon will claim that they're trying to improve road safety with their new cameras, but it's essential that these developments are scrutinized and criticized appropriately. No one should be pressured into signing away their biometric data.
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