In brief: Amazon has been at the center of the debate around facial recognition technology and its implementation by law enforcement. Shareholders won the right to vote on whether or not to ban sales pending an independent inquiry, but in the end only 2% voted for the motion.
In April we reported that shareholders had won the right to challenge Amazon’s sales of facial recognition technology to law enforcement agencies, following two rulings by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). That vote has now taken place, and despite it being such a hot topic, a mere 2% of shareholders voted for the ban.
The technology called ‘Rekognition’ had garnered attention as critics say that it – as well as others’ implementations of facial scanning infrastructure – hasn’t been properly appraised in light of concerns around privacy and civil liberties. The proposed ban was not to halt sales entirely, but instead to limit contracts with police and other government agencies until a full and independent inquiry had assessed the potential risks.
Amazon maintains that Rekognition helps keep the public safe, but other implementations across the world have not been demonstrated to be fully trustworthy.
In the UK, technology implemented by the Metropolitan Police wrongly identified innocent people as suspects 96% of the time in one test. Whether or not you believe that a 4% success rate is enough to justify the potential privacy invasion of the other 96% of people, that amount of false positives clearly show the system is not working in that instance.
In the U.S., states like California are already taking their first steps towards banning facial recognition, with a bill currently making its way through the state Assembly.
Then of course there is China, perhaps the biggest user and most malicious actor within the sector. China has infamously implemented systems which add a ‘social scoring’ element, and attempts to disincentivize non-criminal ‘bad bahavior’ through punishments like public transport bans.
For now though, given the overwhelming failure of the vote, Amazon will continue to sell the technology to whomever is willing to pay.