Amazon vans line up at a distribution center to pick up packages and deliver them on July 16, 2019, on Amazon Prime Day in Orlando, Florida.
Paul Hennessy | NurPhoto | fake images
Last week, Amazon raised privacy concerns when it confirmed that it is rolling out AI-enabled cameras on vans used by some of its contracted delivery partners. But the company has been using software for years to monitor and track the behavior of delivery drivers on the road.
Amazon requires contracted delivery drivers to continuously download and run a smartphone app, called a “Mentor,” that monitors their driving behavior while on the job. The app, which Amazon sees as a tool to improve driver safety, generates a score each day that measures employees’ driving performance.
The Delivery Services Partner Program (DSP), launched in 2018, is comprised of contracted delivery companies handling a growing share of the online retail giant’s last-mile deliveries. In just a few years, the program has grown to include more than 1,300 delivery companies in five countries, threatening to change an industry that has traditionally been dominated by shipping partners such as UPS and FedEx.
Like the AI-equipped cameras that are deployed at contract delivery companies, Mentor is framed as a “digital driver safety app” to help employees avoid accidents and other unsafe driving habits while on the road. to his destiny. But multiple delivery hosts who spoke to CNBC described the app as invasive and expressed concern that errors within the app can, at times, lead to unfair disciplinary action by their manager.
Amazon spokeswoman Deborah Bass told CNBC in a statement: “Safety is Amazon’s highest priority. Whether it’s cutting edge telemetry and advanced last-mile truck safety technology, safety training programs drivers or continuous improvements within our maps and routes technology, we have invested tens of millions of dollars in safety mechanisms throughout our network and regularly communicate safety best practices to drivers. “
But Bass did not respond to any of the specific allegations DSP drivers made to CNBC about the Mentor app detailed in this story, as well as questions about how the app uses certain behaviors to rate drivers.
Amazon drivers must log in to the Mentor app at the beginning of their shift each day.
The scores generated by the Mentor app are used in more ways than simply evaluating a person’s job performance, the drivers say. Amazon also looks at the scores, in part, by ranking the status of a delivery partner, according to the drivers, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation from Amazon.
The DSP rating system ranges from “Poor” to “Good” to “Fantastic” and to the higher level, called “Fantastic +”. A surplus of low Mentor scores among a delivery partner’s workforce can lower DSP’s ranking, potentially jeopardizing their access to benefits provided by Amazon, such as optimal delivery routes, the drivers said.
The app also includes a dashboard for drivers to “see how they stack up to the rest of their team.” Mentor’s score-based system raises concerns that the app is intensifying work pressure, pitting drivers and DSPs out of competition with each other to an unhealthy degree.
DSPs are already under intense pressure due to the ease with which Amazon can cut contracts with delivery partners.
“The knowledge that you are under this level of constant vigilance, that even if you are doing a good job at your job, an app or algorithm could make a determination that affects your life or your ability to put food on the table for your children is I think deeply unfair, “said Evan Greer, deputy director of the digital rights group Fight for the Future. “It’s incredibly dystopian.”
How Mentor works
The Mentor app was created by eDriving, a New Jersey-based technology company that develops road safety tools for the automotive and logistics industries. Representatives for eDriving did not respond to requests for comment.
Amazon drivers must log in to the Mentor app at the beginning of their shift each day. The app calculates a score for each driver, called a “FICO score,” based on their driving performance, and should not be confused with the credit score of the same name.
The Mentor app calculates a score for each driver, called a “FICO score,” based on their driving performance.
The app tracks and measures driving behaviors such as hard braking, accelerating, making cell phone calls or sending text messages, according to a DSP Driver Mentor Guide. The app also tracks seatbelt use and reverse driving, but those behaviors are not accounted for in the driver’s FICO score.
Mentor has a tiered system for scoring, with a maximum score of 800 to 850 considered “Excellent”, while a score of 100 to 499 is considered the lowest level, or the application of the label as “Risk”. It’s unclear how many points each violation is worth, but drivers say that some violations can hurt your FICO score more than others.
‘I had no control over it’
Safety violations do not have to be serious to lower a driver’s score in the Mentor app.
“I got a ding because someone called me and I didn’t respond,” said Devin Gonzales, a former driver who was fired by his Colorado-based DSP last month. The Mentor app had falsely marked the incoming call as a violation because it thought the phone was in use while driving.
“He had no control over that,” Gonzales added.
In other US DSPs, delivery drivers said they experienced issues with the Mentor app. Adrienne Williams, who drove for Amazon until last July, ran the Mentor app on an e-packet scanner, internally referred to as a “rabbit.” Drivers use the rabbit to indicate when they arrive at each delivery stop on their route, among other uses.
Williams said she was frustrated as she took the rabbit’s device to mark her stop while her truck was idle, but the Mentor app was recording the action as distracted driving. As a result, Williams would see his mentor score drop each time he reached a delivery destination.
“Every time I said I was at the stop, they beat me,” Williams said in an interview. “And that’s 150 stops in one day, so I was jabbed at least 150 times a day.”
After this pushed his score from the “700 and 800 highs” to around the 400 level,[the Mentor app] I said driving was risky, “Williams said.” I was pushed aside and told that his FICO score was too low. “
Williams’ DSP then gave him another rabbit device, just to run the Mentor app. He said he would keep the device locked in the glove compartment of his truck to avoid errors with the app and preserve his FICO score.
DSPs may use the data collected by the Mentor app to make employment decisions, including disciplinary actions such as redactions. Drivers say that if their score falls below a certain threshold, they can be removed from work hours for a few days or a week, lose access to bonuses and not receive certain benefits. For example, some DSPs will pay drivers for a full day shift if they finish their work early, but if a driver’s FICO score is too low, they will only be paid for the hours they complete, the drivers said.
On Reddit forums and Facebook groups, DSP drivers will share tips on how to play with the Mentor app and increase your score. Some of the tips can be particularly tricky.
In a YouTube video, a DSP driver instructs employees to wrap the Mentor-installed phone in a sweater and place it in the glove compartment of the truck so it doesn’t move while the car is in motion, which the app can be confused with the driver. using your device.
“If your device moves, it will count against you,” says the driver, Juan Ramos, in the video. “You have a better chance of making your score go down.”
While the Mentor app is meant to get drivers to adopt safer driving habits, some DSP employees said it pushes them to take risks, as they worry the extra steps could slow them down and lead to a reprimand from waiting managers. fast deliveries.
The Mentor app is capable of tracking whether a driver is wearing their seatbelt if they are driving an Amazon-brand van. Some drivers buckle up, but place the strap that normally rests on their chest behind them, so they can move more easily while driving, preventing a Mentor app violation.
“Most drivers buckle up, buckle up behind them, and drive without a seatbelt on, which is unsafe,” said an Ohio DSP driver.
If a driver feels that the Mentor app has flagged it incorrectly, they can dispute it in the app. But that doesn’t always lead to a resolution.
“After you challenge it, they’ll email you and say, ‘We’re sorry,’ and that’s it,” said the Ohio DSP driver. “It’s not a very solid system. I don’t think [eDriving] understands how important a driver’s score is. “
Follow up at home
The Mentor app is a central focus of DSP drivers’ daily lives at work as they work to maintain their safety score. But the app can also follow drivers outside of their delivery van and into their homes.
Some DSPs provide drivers with a company-issued phone where they can download and run Mentor, but several drivers told CNBC that their company did not provide them with a separate device, so they had to download the app on their personal device.
The Mentor app tracks a user’s location using GPS. The privacy features in Apple’s iOS operating system for iPhones ask users via a pop-up message on the screen to select whether they want an application to run location services in the background only once, only while they are using the application. or every hour. Drivers are told to allow the Mentor app to collect location data at all times.
“When this message appears, you are presented with two options, ‘Switch to Only During Use’ or ‘Always Allow’,” states the Mentor guide issued for DSP controllers. “This setting must remain ‘Always allow’ to accurately record trips.”
Williams said its Richmond, California-based DSP did not provide drivers with a phone, so they were expected to download Mentor onto their own device. Williams said he refused and the DSP gave him a different phone number, but most of his coworkers were too apprehensive to voice their concerns, so they agreed to let Mentor track his location without any restrictions.
“Many of my colleagues said it discouraged them, but they didn’t know what to do,” Williams said. “So you’re stuck saying, ‘I’m going to allow my employer to follow me at all times on my personal phone.’