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Dystopia Prime: Amazon Subjects Its Drivers to Biometric Surveillance

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Some high-tech surveillance is so dangerous to privacy that companies must never deploy it against a person without their voluntary opt-in consent. It comes as little surprise that Amazon, the company that brought you Ring doorbell cameras and Rekognition face surveillance, has a tenuous understanding of both privacy and consent. Earlier this week, Motherboard revealed the company’s cruel “take it or leave” demand to its 75,000 delivery drivers: submit to biometric surveillance or lose your job.

Amazon’sPrivacy Policy for Vehicle Camera Technology” states it may collect “face image and biometric information.” The company uses this information, among other things, to verify driver identity, and to provide “real-time in-vehicle alerts” about driver behaviors such as potentially distracted driving. This sensitive information collected by “safety cameras” mounted in delivery vehicle cabins is stored for as long as 30 days and available to Amazon on request. The company’s “Vehicle Technology and Biometric Consent” document states: “As a condition of delivering Amazon packages, you consent to the use of the Technology and collection of data and information from the Technology by Amazon …” Likewise, the company’s “Photos Use and Biometric Information Retention Policy” states: “Amazon … require[s] that users of the Amazon delivery application provide a photo for identification purposes. Amazon may derive from your stored photo a scan of your face geometry or similar biometric data …”

According to an Amazon contractor who spoke to Motherboard: “I had one driver who refused to sign. It’s a heart-breaking conversation when someone tells you that you’re their favorite person they have ever worked for, but Amazon just micromanages them too much.” 

According to another Amazon driver, who spoke to Thomson Reuters Foundation last month about this new surveillance program: “We are out here working all day, trying our best already. The cameras are just another way to control us.”

The new Amazon system, called Driveri, is built by a company called Netradyne. It combines always-on cameras, pointed at both the driver and the road, with real-time AI analysis of the footage. Five U.S. Senators recently sent Amazon a letter raising privacy and other concerns about Driveri, and seeking information about it.

In a recent blog, we detailed why biometric surveillance technologies, such as face recognition, must never be deployed without informed and freely given opt-in consent. As we explained, we cannot change our biometrics, and it is extraordinarily difficult to hide them from other people. With advances in technology, it is easier every day for companies to collect our biometrics, rapidly identify us, build dossiers about us and our movements, and sell all this information to others.

Fortunately, Illinois enacted its Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA). This critical law requires companies to obtain opt-in consent before collecting a person’s biometrics or using them in a new way. It also establishes a deletion deadline. People whose BIPA rights are violated may enforce the law with their own private right of action. We oppose efforts, past and present, to exempt workplaces from BIPA’s scope. A federal bill to extend BIPA  nationwide was introduced last year by U.S. Sens. Jeff Merkley and Bernie Sanders.

Of course, when Amazon says to its drivers, “give us your biometrics or you’re fired” – that’s not consent. That’s coercion.  


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