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Shareholders to Amazon: Stop selling face-recognition tech to the government

Shareholders to Amazon: Stop selling face-recognition tech to the government
[Animation: Ryoji Iwata/Unsplash]

Amazon is facing shareholder opposition over the sale of its facial recognition technology to law enforcement. In a letter sent this morning, 17 investors have asked Amazon to stop selling its Rekognition technology to government entities, citing privacy concerns.

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“The undersigned Amazon (AMZN) shareholders are concerned such government surveillance infrastructure technology may not only pose a privacy threat to customers and other stakeholders across the country but may also raise substantial risks for our Company, negatively impacting our company’s stock valuation and increasing financial risk for shareholders,” the letter reads. In particular, shareholders are concerned that possible biases in the technology may contribute to the unfair targeting of both people of color and immigrants.

The shareholder letter is being delivered in tandem with a letter from a coalition of civil liberties organizations including the ACLU. The letter from the coalition demands that Amazon “stop powering a government surveillance infrastructure that poses a grave threat to customers and communities across the country.” This is a second attempt by the ACLU to put pressure on Amazon following a May 2018 New York Times article about use of this technology by law enforcement.

Of course, Amazon isn’t the only company selling image recognition software to law enforcement. For instance, Motorola Solutions, in collaboration with Neurala, is working on real-time object recognition technology for body cameras. Microsoft, meanwhile, offers facial recognition for clients of its own cloud storage platform.


Related: The Vast, Secretive Face Database That Could Instantly ID You In A Crowd


But civil liberties organizations are particularly focused on Amazon’s technology because of its low cost and marketing around body-worn cameras. Furthermore, Amazon has at times presented itself as an ally to the consumers, says Adam Schwartz, a senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. For instance, at the end of 2016, Amazon refused to hand over data from one of its Echo devices in relation to a murder case, although it ultimately relented after the accused consented. 

“It’s disappointing that Amazon, in particular, has gotten into this market,” Schwartz says.

We reached out to Amazon for comment and will update if we hear back.

Update 1:10 p.m.: This article has been clarified to better reflect the technology that Motorola Solutions and Neurala are currently collaborating on. 

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