Afternoon Coffee: Amazon places AI-equipped cameras on delivery vehicles; Chinese hackers also part of SolarWinds breach; Peloton invests $100 million in deliveries

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Amazon has begun placing AI-equipped cameras in its delivery vehicles to monitor contracted drivers while they’re on the job to improve safety, but it has raised privacy concerns, according to CNBC.

The company deployed the cameras in its Amazon-branded cargo vans used by a handful of companies as part of its delivery service partner program, which are largely responsible for last-mile deliveries. The cameras can be rolled out to additional DSPs (contracted delivery partners) over time.

The cameras could help improve safety, but drivers and other privacy advocates said they’re concerned about the tradeoffs. Some drivers told CNBC that the cameras are “unnerving,” “Big Brother” and a “punishment system.”

“We are investing in safety across our operations and recently started rolling out industry leading camera-based safety technology across our delivery fleet,” Deborah Bass, an Amazon spokesperson, said in a statement. “This technology will provide drivers real-time alerts to help them stay safe when they are on the road.”

Meanwhile, the Federal Trade Commission unveiled a complaint against Amazon alleging that Amazon’s Flex program stole nearly $62 million in tips from its drivers between 2016 and 2019, according to CBS News. Amazon will have to pay back the tips it skimmed over the years.

"Rather than passing along 100 percent of customers' tips to drivers, as it had promised to do, Amazon used the money itself," Daniel Kaufman, acting director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement.

The announcement of the cameras came just one day after Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced he will step down and transition to executive chairman, CNBC reported. Andy Jassy will step in as the company’s top executive later this year.

Bezos founded Amazon in 1994 and turned the online bookstore into a mega-retailer with global reach known for its quick delivery times, the article said. Amazon surpassed the $1 trillion market cap under Bezos in January last year, and now it’s worth more than $1.6 trillion.

SolarWinds hack extends to Chinese hackers, questions arise about third-party security

A few months after alleged-Russian hackers broke into IT management firm SolarWinds, it’s been suspected that Chinese hackers independently exploited a different flaw in SolarWinds products last year around the same time, according to the website Wired. This hack reportedly affected the US Department of Agriculture’s National Finance Center.

SolarWinds fixed these vulnerabilities in December. But the revelation shows hiccups that organizations can face when dealing with their own security issues but also potential issues with third-party companies’ security, the article said.

“I’ve got hundreds of different vendors we use, from Microsoft to Box, Zoom, Slack and so on. It only takes one,” Marcin Kleczynski, CEO of the antivirus maker Malwarebytes, which disclosed in January that it had been a victim of the suspected Russian hacking spree, told Wired. “It’s a catch-22. Rely on one vendor and you’re screwed if they get hit. Rely on multiple and all it takes is one. Rely on the big brands and deal with the consequences that they’re the most targeted. Rely on the small brands and deal with the consequences that they’re not yet investing in security.”

Fitness maker Peloton invests $100 million to fix supply chain issues

Sales of Peloton bikes and treadmills boomed in recent months as people work from home during the coronavirus crisis, but the company is scrambling to keep up with the pace, leading it to invest $100 million to fix overseas delivery problems and to start more production in the US, according to Bloomberg.

In an email to Peloton users, CEO John Foley wrote to say the equipment maker will start shipping its machines by air to ease some delivery delays. It will also double its customer service team. Most of the supply chains woes have come from overextended ports, the article said.

Right now, the Peloton site says a bike will take eight to 10 weeks to arrive. Air freight could help fix some of these problems, but it costs up to 16 times more than shipping by sea or up to five time more than trucking, the article said.

"In the coming quarters, we plan to expand our US-based manufacturing operations on an even more impressive scale,” Foley said on the company website. “I look forward to updating you about these efforts and how they help minimize global transport, promote local jobs, and increase our total capacity to bring innovative and engaging products to our members.”

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