Amazon is facing a potential revolt from a sizeable segment of their shareholders over their relationship with the government and law enforcement, specifically in regards to facial recognition technology.
CNNMoney reported this week that nearly 70 different groups of shareholders are putting pressure on Amazon to stop selling facial recognition technology to law enforcement. The Social Equity Group and Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investment are among some of the groups who are making the push for Amazon to stop supplying law enforcement with technology that can be used against its customers and shareholders.
The technology in question is called "Rekognition," facial recognition software that the company released in 2016 and sells to a number of clients, which are mostly law enforcement.
The shareholders have voiced their concerns that this technology could be used for mass surveillance and to allow police to spy on innocent people. They also expressed concern that Amazon's involvement in this type of technology could negatively affect their stock price.
"We are concerned the technology would be used to unfairly and disproportionately target and surveil people of color, immigrants, and civil society organizations. We are concerned sales may be expanded to foreign governments, including authoritarian regimes," the shareholders wrote in a joint statement.
As The Free Thought Project has reported in the past, facial recognition is extremely untrustworthy.
According to a report from the Guardian, the South Wales Police scanned the crowd of more than 170,000 people who attended the 2017 Champions League final soccer match in Cardiff and falsely identified thousands of innocent people. The cameras identified 2,470 people as criminals but 2,297 of them were innocent, and only 173 of them were criminals—a 92 percent false positive rate.
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According to a Freedom of Information request filed by Wired, these are actually typical numbers for the facial recognition software used by the South Wales Police. Data from the department showed that there were false positive rates of 87 percent and 90 percent for different events. Further, it is not clear how many of these suspects were actually nonviolent offenders.
Similiar numbers were released by the FBI in 2016, with the agency also admitting that their facial recognition database consisted of mostly innocent people since they use drivers' license and passport photos for their searches, in addition to mug shots. In fact, there is a 50/50 chance that your picture is in a facial recognition database. Also in 2016, another study found that facial recognition software disproportionately targeted people with dark skin.
Police departments across the world are always expanding their facial recognition databases and putting cameras in every possible place they can. Just last month, The Free Thought Project reported that police will soon be scanning everything in their path with facial recognition software installed in their body cameras.
While it is not likely that Amazon will change their policy over a shareholder revolt, the fact that this technology is unpopular enough for there to be a protest shows that people are beginning to wake up.
Earlier this year, The Free Thought Project reported that thousands of Google employees were speaking out about the company’s close relationship with the Pentagon, and their involvement in the business of war.
Initially, 3,100 Google employees signed a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, demanding that the company cancel an ongoing contract with the Pentagon that supported a drone program called “Project Maven.” Surprisingly, Google decided to cancel the contract for Project Maven, after at least a dozen of the employees who signed the letter resigned from the company in protest.
These protests may not move mountains overnight, but they are setting a very important example and opening the door for more resistance in the future. Situations like this also give us proof that people really are waking up, and show that there is hope in stopping these types of programs.