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Amazon drivers describe the paranoia of working under the watchful eyes of new truck cameras that monitor them constantly and fire off 'rage-inducing' alerts if they make a wrong move

Business Insider logo Business Insider 4/12/2021 ahartmans@businessinsider.com (Avery Hartmans,Kate Taylor)
a man reading a book: An Amazon delivery driver. Patrick Fallon/Getty Images © Provided by Business Insider An Amazon delivery driver. Patrick Fallon/Getty Images
  • Amazon drivers now have multiple cameras constantly filming them as part of the Driveri system.
  • Drivers told Insider they're worried about privacy, with cameras monitoring every yawn.
  • They fear they'll fail to keep up with Amazon's breakneck pace because of the new surveillance system.
  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Many Amazon drivers say the solitude and the independence of working on the road are big draws of the job.

Research

But those perks are under threat since Amazon started installing surveillance cameras in delivery vans that monitor workers' driving, hand movements, and even facial expressions.

Some workers are paranoid about what the cameras - which peer at them from their windshields and fire off audible alerts following missteps - are watching and how they could be punished for what the technology flags, according to interviews with five drivers.

"I know we're on a job, but, I mean, I'm afraid to scratch my nose. I'm afraid to move my hair out of my face, you know?" a female driver based in Oklahoma told Insider. "Because we're going to get dinged for it."

The Oklahoma driver and several others interviewed asked that their names be withheld for fear that their jobs would be affected, but Insider verified their identities.

Several drivers said the cameras could be helpful in cases of collisions or other dangerous situations. But they also worried about how the technology was affecting their productivity and described concerns with managing bathroom needs, like changing adult diapers, within sight of the cameras.

"We have zero privacy and no margin for error," a California-based driver said.

Netradyne, the maker of the camera system, did not respond to Insider's request for comment. A representative for Amazon said in a statement to Insider that Netradyne cameras are used to keep drivers and communities safe. In a pilot of the cameras from April to October 2020, accidents dropped by 48%, stop-sign violations dropped by 20%, driving without a seatbelt dropped by 60%, and distracted driving dropped by 45%, according to the company.

"Don't believe the self-interested critics who claim these cameras are intended for anything other than safety," Amazon's statement said.

The cameras capture yawns, distracted driving, and more

a person standing in front of a monitor: A still from the instructional video on Amazon's Netradyne camera system. Amazon/Vimeo © Amazon/Vimeo A still from the instructional video on Amazon's Netradyne camera system. Amazon/Vimeo

The camera system, called Driveri, isn't made by Amazon. It was created by Netradyne, a transportation company that uses artificial intelligence to monitor fleets of drivers.

The system, mounted on the inside of a windshield, contains four cameras: a road-facing camera, two side-facing cameras, and one camera that faces inward toward the driver. Together, the cameras provide 270 degrees of coverage.

While the cameras record 100% of the time when the ignition is running, Amazon says the system does not have audio functionality or a live-view feature, meaning drivers can't be watched in real time while they drive. The cameras upload the footage only when they detect one of 16 issues, such as hard braking or a seatbelt lapse, and that footage can be accessed only by "a limited set of authorized people," Karolina Haraldsdottir, a senior manager for last-mile safety at Amazon, said in a training video about the cameras.

The Driveri system also sounds alerts in four instances: failure to stop, inadequate following distance, speeding, or distracted driving.

The system can be shut off, but only when the ignition is also turned off. Amazon said it would share video data with third parties, such as the police, only in the event of a dangerous incident.

The camera system sparked a backlash from some drivers shortly after it was announced. A driver named Vic told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that the cameras were the final straw that led him to quit, calling them "both a privacy violation and a breach of trust."

A driver named Angel Rajal told Insider last month that he thought the new cameras were "annoying" and made him feel as if he were always being watched.

"I get a 'distracted driver' notification even if I'm changing the radio station or drinking water," he said.

Read more: Amazon logistics salaries revealed: Here's what workers bulking out Amazon's supply chain make, from entry-level analysts to senior management

Drivers say they're worried about their privacy

a group of people sitting at a train station: The struggles of Amazon drivers have been in the spotlight recently. AP © AP The struggles of Amazon drivers have been in the spotlight recently. AP

In interviews with Insider, drivers whose vans have the cameras installed highlighted a slew of issues they were facing so far. Lack of privacy is a top concern, they said.

Several drivers said they feared that yawning while driving would result in an infraction for drowsiness. And with some drivers feeling pressured to urinate in bottles on the job, there are concerns about being caught on camera in an uncomfortable position.

Bronwyn Brigham, a driver based in Houston who has driven trucks outfitted with Driveri for about two weeks, told Insider that the presence of the cameras made her feel as if she were being watched and made her worry about how to manage her bathroom needs inside the van.

"I have to wear a Depends because I'm 56," she said, referring to a type of adult diaper. "If I wet that Depends, I need to take that off. Then the cameras are on, so that makes it hard. If I need to change into another one, they're watching that."

"We are all worried that we have zero privacy," the California driver said. "Considering we have to use bottles to relieve ourselves - is that being watched?"

The ignition must be off to turn off the cameras, but that leaves drivers with no air conditioning.

As a result, drivers in regions that experience extreme heat during the summer will need to choose between privacy and cool air while they take their breaks.

'Rage-inducing' voices and guidance 'designed to make you slower'

A male driver based in Oklahoma who has been driving with the cameras for about a month told Insider that the Driveri system was obstructing his view while he drives, making it difficult to see house numbers - and children playing - on the passenger side of the street.

"I've had times where I look up and there's nobody there, and then all of a sudden the kid pops out from behind where the camera is obstructing the view," the driver said.

The driver also said the camera's verbal alerts, which use a computer-generated voice, were distracting and "rage-inducing." That sentiment was echoed by several other drivers who said the alerts made them feel as if they were being micromanaged.

Several drivers told Insider that they were worried about receiving infractions for handling their phones on the job, even though they need the devices for navigation.

Drivers rely on two apps while they work: Mentor, which monitors driving, and Flex, Amazon's navigation app. A driver who delivers near the Twin Cities told Insider that he juggled this by loading one app on his work phone and the other on his personal device.

"In order to be successful throughout your day, you have to zoom in and out on the map on the Flex app that you have on a dock that you can look at while driving," he said. "My concern is that ... with the cameras in place, it's going to be noticing we're using our phone while driving."

Keeping up with Amazon's demands is an ongoing concern for drivers. Some are worried that the new system will slow them down, making it more difficult to deliver all the packages they're expected to drop off every day, which could be as many as 300.

For example, Driveri is triggered by a "failure to stop" at an intersection. However, the female Oklahoma-based driver said that in situations where a stop sign is several feet before the intersection, she had to stop twice to avoid an infraction, costing her valuable seconds. The California driver said he feared being reprimanded for going just a few miles above the speed limit.

Brigham said that she was doing her best to drive especially carefully now that the cameras are installed and that it was slowing her down. If she's not moving fast enough, she said, she'll get a call from her dispatcher - a supervisor who tracks drivers' progress - telling her she's running behind in her deliveries.

The male driver from Oklahoma said the new system felt like a Catch-22.

"The job is all about speed and how fast you can get to the door," he said. "But these cameras and some of the other policies Amazon has in place, it's like they're designed to make you slower."

Being watched by a computer is now part of the job

a person standing in front of a box: Cameras have advantages and create challenges. AP © AP Cameras have advantages and create challenges. AP

Several of the drivers Insider interviewed said there were advantages to the Driveri system.

If an accident occurs during a delivery, for instance, the system will automatically upload the footage. Drivers will be able to prove if they were paying attention and following the rules of the road.

And the cameras will record outside the delivery van for 20 minutes even if the ignition is turned off, which could help drivers if someone approaches the van to harass or rob them.

Still, drivers say the cameras are a new frustration in an already challenging job.

"I do like my job, but it is stacked up against me," the California driver said.

The driver said that 99% of the time he enjoyed delivering packages but that the cameras highlighted the extreme demands of the job. Recently, he said, he worked from 10:45 a.m. to 10:10 p.m. He said he did not have time for a single break and had to pee in a bottle twice. The entire time, he was aware the camera was on.

"The part that bothers me the most is that we're being watched by a computer," the male driver from Oklahoma said, "and that computer is what makes a judgment as to whether we're doing something wrong or not, whether or not we get to keep our jobs."

Are you an Amazon driver with a story to share? We want to hear from you. Email ahartmans@businessinsider.com or ktaylor@businessinsider.com, or via the Signal encrypted messenger app at (646) 768-4740.

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