Amazon’s facial recognition software has been drawing a lot of controversies lately and it seems the matter has finally reached the company’s shareholders. A group of Amazon shareholders is now calling on the retail giant to stop selling this technology to the government and related agencies. They join civil liberties groups, Amazon employees, and members of Congress who have also expressed concern over the issue. The software called Rekognition has been developed by Amazon and over the last year, it was made available to law enforcement agencies in the state of Florida. There were also some reports indicating that the technology may have been used by the U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcements agency.
Critics of the program claim that the technology is not always reliable and there are many documented cases of mistaken identity. A report that was released last July by the ACLU actually found that the software mismatched about 28 members of Congress with criminals in a database that included over 25,000 mugshots. The mismatch appeared to mostly affect African American and Hispanic lawmakers.
But the controversy surrounding facial recognition software is not new. In fact, it’s not just Amazon that has been dealing with this issue. There are a lot of activists who feel the software poses massive privacy risks and can be open to many technical challenges. Despite the controversy, facial recognition technology has been expanding in recent years making its way into airports, grocery stores, and even concerts. However, it’s only recently that its use by government agencies has been raising eyebrows.
At the moment, there are over 85 human rights groups that have joined the ACLU in asking tech companies like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft to stop selling this kind of technology to government agencies. The biggest concern so far is that the software can be used to discriminate and punish innocent people. Shareholders of these tech companies are now the latest to sound the bell and it seems the issue is far from over. In a letter sent to Amazon by the group, it’s clear that most feel the technology is not yet ready to be fully deployed by government agencies. The shareholders are urging the retail giant to stop selling Rekognition to the government until these issues are resolved.
The resolution signed in the letter has already been received by Amazon. People familiar to the matter said that the resolution will actually go into a vote at the company’s annual meeting slated to take place this spring. It’s not clear though whether the pressure will be enough. Amazon has maintained over the last few months that its technology is only used to assist law enforcement in their work. The company also noted that at no point has the software been deployed to track people in real life nor has it been used to convict people of any crimes. Its application has only been limited to helping law enforcement narrow down their list of suspects. But even with that, serious human rights issues have already been raised with regards to the technology and it looks like they won’t go away anytime soon. Amazon and other tech companies developing this kind of technology will need to address these issues moving forward.