Investors are urging Amazon to stop selling facial recognition technology to government agencies, fearing that sales of such software may lead to violation of rights of people. Amazon board was asked by some shareholders on Thursday to cease sales of the tool, Rekognition, unless it is made sure via a third-party evaluation that it does not contribute to or cause potential or actual violation of people’s human and civil rights.
The resolution filed was set up by a non-profit organization called Open Mic that encourages investors to play active roles in media and tech companies and will hopefully be voted upon at Amazon’s annual shareholder meeting that is scheduled to be held in spring. Investors supporting this cause include Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood, a religious order. It is however interesting to note that shareholder resolutions are seldom approved and even if they are, companies are under no obligation to abide by them. So the group of shareholders vouching for halt of facial recognition software sales can only hope for the best. They did not state exactly how much of the online retailer’s stock they own.
The method of deep learning is used by Rekognition for identification of faces, objects and scenes in images of videos. The software, released in 2016, is put to use by government customers, as well as police departments of Oregon and Florida. Although issues like sex trafficking can be tackled well by using facial recognition technology, it is still prone to errors. The American Civil Rights Union is also opposed to sales of this software. In July, it reported that 28 Congress members had been wrongly identified and matched with mugshots in a database. Such mistakes happened more often with people of color.
Almost 20 groups of shareholders of Amazon wrote to CEO Jeff Bezos last year demanding halt of Rekognition sales to government. Over 12 civil rights groups with ACLU as their leader asked for the same thing as did hundreds of employees of the company. Bezos said in October that his company would not sever business ties with US Defense Department and other government agencies.