Some Amazon shareholders have sent a letter to the company, according to CNBC, demanding that it stop selling its facial recognition software to government agencies. The investors want the eCommerce giant to stop selling Rekognition — technology from Amazon Web Services (AWS) that can identify and track people — due to concerns over "immigrant surveillance of vulnerable communities, racial profiling, and other civil and human rights violations," nonprofit Open MIC reported.
The letter was organized by Open MIC, which focuses on corporate accountability, and was filed on Thursday (Jan. 17) by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood, a member of the Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investment. The shareholders in support of the letter represent a total of $1.32 billion in assets under management.
The letter detailed how, in one test of Rekognition, the technology misidentified 28 African-American and Latino members of U.S. Congress as people in criminal mug shots.
“It’s a familiar pattern: a leading tech company marketing what is hailed as breakthrough technology, without understanding or assessing the many real and potential harms of that product," said Michael Connor, executive director of Open MIC. "Sales of Rekognition to government[s] represent considerable risk for the company and investors. That’s why it’s imperative those sales be halted immediately.”
Amazon has already reportedly sold Rekognition to law enforcement in at least two states, and has proposed it to ICE, while the FBI is currently testing it out.
This isn't the first time Rekognition has come under fire. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) raised concerns of racial bias after testing it out last year, and some Amazon employees questioned its use during a staff meeting in November, according to CNBC.
However, in an Amazon Web Services blog post, Dr. Matt Wood called into question the validity of ACLU's findings. And Amazon has defended the technology's use, explaining that it can help prevent human trafficking and package theft. AWS CEO Andy Jassy told employees during the November staff meeting that the company plans to continue selling Rekognition because it feels "really strongly about the value" it provides to law enforcement.
In the meantime, the investor group is hoping Amazon will vote on the resolution at this year's annual shareholder meeting, which usually occurs in May.