Amazon Shareholders Defend Facial Recognition Tech


At a meeting on Wednesday (May 22), Amazon Shareholders shot down two proposals to monitor and curb the eCommerce giant’s facial recognition service, according to a report by Reuters.

Amazon’s technology, called Rekognition, has been under scrutiny as critics of the service have warned of false arrests and incorrect matches. Other voices in favor of the tech have claimed the service keeps the public more safe. The technology has been used by law enforcement in Oregon and Florida.

Amazon tried to stop the voting on the two non-binding proposals, which had the support of civil liberties groups, but it was overruled by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

One of the proposals would have put forward plans to conduct a study to see how much Rekognition harms human rights and privacy. The other would have made the company stop giving the technology to governments unless it was determined that selling it didn’t violate civil liberties.

One of the main concerns with Amazon’s tech is that it has more trouble than competitors’ software when it comes to identifying the gender of people with darker skin tones, which stokes fears of the technology putting innocent people in jail.

Amazon has defended the technology and it said all users of Rekognition must obey the law. It has also added a web portal for people to report abuse.

Amazon’s board recommended against the proposals, but some critics saw potential benefits.

“This shareholder intervention should serve as a wake-up call for the company to reckon with the real harms of face surveillance and to change course,” said Shankar Narayan of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington state.

Also on Wednesday, in the United States Congress, there was an indication that there would be support from both sides of the aisle when it comes to regulating the technology.

A committee met to discuss the impact of the tech on civil rights. When he heard about the vote, U.S. Representative Jimmy Gomez said “that just means that it’s more important that Congress acts.”