Amazon shareholders reject proposal to ban facial recognition sales to governments

25 Mai, 2019, 02:53 | Auteur: Auguste Feret
  • The logo of Amazon is seen on the door of an Amazon Books retail store in New York

The first proposal would have made the company stop offering facial recognition to governments unless its board determined sales did not violate civil liberties.

That the vote took place at all is more than a symbolic victory, too, as Amazon did not sit back idly while groups like the ACLU, Open MIC, and worker unions like the UFCW agitated in favour of these agenda items. The vote breakdown is now undisclosed, though an Amazon spokeswoman told Reuters the proposals failed by a wide margin. "As one of the leading technology companies in the world, Amazon can and must do better".

Police departments in Florida and OR piloted the software platform, but reports of Amazon courting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as a client last summer point to Amazon's appetite for government contracts. The vote breakdown will be disclosed at a later point in time.

Studies - including one from Georgia Tech University and another from MIT - have shown that predictive technology can have trouble with darker skin tones. Emily Cunningham, an Amazon employee, asked for the opportunity to address her concerns directly to Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos but was denied.

Still, critics of the technology believed the vote was beneficial.

"Even if perfectly accurate, face surveillance changes the balance of power between government and individuals".

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which strongly opposes the use of facial recognition technology, spoke out against the decision on Twitter.

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Responding to the shareholder vote, Democratic U.S. Representative Jimmy Gomez said, "that just means that it's more important that Congress acts". A second hearing on the topic is scheduled for June 4.

Seattle-based Amazon developed facial-recognition technology called Rekognition and sells it as part of its cloud services unit.

There are now no federal laws addressing how facial-recognition systems can be used, but a handful of states and local governments have passed or are considering their own rules in relation to this and other surveillance technologies - San Francisco, for instance, banned the use of facial-recognition technology by city government just last week.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Amazon is seen at the company logistics centre in Boves, France, May 13, 2019.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), according to the Washington Post, argued in favor of federal legislation aimed at restraining the technology before "it gets out of control". Microsoft (MSFT) President Brad Smith has said that his company rejected the sale of its own facial recognition technology to a police department out of fear that it would disproportionately impact women and minorities.

"You've now hit the sweet spot that brings progressives and conservatives together", he said.

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