Amazon’s internal delivery service, Amazon Flex, will require its drivers to take photos of themselves to be validated with facial recognition.
The detail, first reported by Business Insider, sees Amazon further controlling the work of Flex drivers, which the company considers independent contractors and not employees. They drive their own vehicles, pay out of pocket for incurred costs like vehicle wear and gas, and are not entitled to benefits like healthcare.
Labor conditions of Flex drivers were expensively reported by Gizmodo in 2017 and have by in large stayed the same since then. Meanwhile, the regulatory environment has grown more critical of companies that rely on large numbers of contract laborers—laborers who no shortage of politicians, activists, and lawsuits have argued are misclassified.
It’s unclear how often drivers are being asked to photo-authenticate, what happens to that stored facial data, or if Amazon is obligated to delete that data should the driver quit or become deactivated. Also unknown is what facial recognition software suite is being deployed for this purpose—though one imagines Amazon is using its own in-house package, Rekognition.
Rekognition has been a source of strident criticism from lawmakers and ethicists, due to its alleged biases and Amazon’s willingness to supply the software to law enforcement. Safeguards the company touted as keeping Rekognition from being misused by police were not being followed, Gizmodo learned earlier this year.
If Rekognition is the software being deployed, Flex drivers’ faces could be used as a data set to train and further hone the software, in much the way the Flex app tracks drivers’ routes and uses that data to increase Amazon’s last mile logistics efficiency. Amazon told the Verge the face-recognition authentication is intended to reduce fraud.
Amazon did not immediately return a request for comment on these issues, or if this new surveillance policy extends to parallel programs like its Delivery Service Partners (DSP) network.
Update 4/19/19 11:44 pm ET: Amazon declined to provide a statement, but a spokesperson noted that Flex drivers “already verify their identifies when they check-in for their delivery block” and attempted to frame the change as something in drivers’ best interest: “an additional step Amazon Flex participants take to protect fraudulent activity against their account.” Prompts for photo identification were described as happening regularly but not on every sign-in. The program odes not, according to Amazon, encompass DSPs.
The spokesperson confirmed that Rekognition is in fact the software suite being used but was uncertain on Amazon’s specific policies around data retention.
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Updated with additional background from Amazon.