Amazon faces facial recognition rebellion

Rekognition: Amazon claims its system can even track a person’s happiness over the years.

Shareholders of Amazon will demand, today, that the company stops selling its system to the police. It is simply too powerful and invasive, they say. Is facial recognition going too far?

As automatic facial recognition (AFR) software gets more accurate and cheaper to use it is being swiftly adopted by businesses, police forces and governments across western society. But, today, two events (one in Britain; the other in the US) are high-profile examples of the fightback.

This morning in Seattle, USA, Amazon is facing a concerted push by shareholders to stop selling its AFR technology to US police forces.

While in Cardiff, Wales, the first major legal challenge to police use of AFR has just begun.

At Amazon, angry shareholders are demanding an independent study into whether its system, called Rekognition, threatens civil rights. They want a vote, too, on stopping the business selling it to government agencies.

“It could enable massive surveillance, even if the technology was 100% accurate which, of course, it’s not. And we don’t want it used by law enforcement because of the impact that will have on society — it might limit people’s willingness to go in public spaces where they think they might be tracked,” said one Amazon shareholder.

Hide and seek

Supporters of AFR use the argument that we must move with the times. Look, they say, the technology works. It is an effective and cheap way of supporting police and government agencies under pressure because people don’t want higher taxes to pay for them. How else are we to keep our nations safe? Got a better idea?

This is the thin end of a very scary wedge, say opponents. Just imagine. There is already a model which has 81% accuracy at identifying gay men. What if that got into the wrong hands? And shops are already planning “dynamic pricing”, in which price tags are replaced with digital screens. These prices can change based on the identity of the shopper.

You Decide

  1. Do you feel that your image is private property?


  1. Write a short story set in 10 years’ time when every single move you make is captured on a camera somewhere. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a horror story!

Some People Say...

“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Benjamin Franklin, American statesman

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Amazon’s Rekognition is an online tool that works with both video and still images, and allows users to match faces to pre-scanned subjects in a database containing up to 20 million people. It can suggest whether a subject is male or female. It can deduce a person’s mood.
What do we not know?
If Amazon’s software is biased as a US study suggested Amazon’s algorithms had more gender and racial bias than four competing products. Amazon denies this.

Word Watch

The Amazon website says: “Rekognition makes it easy to add image and video analysis to your applications. You just provide an image or video to the Rekognition API, and the service can identify the objects, people, text, scenes, and activities, as well as detect any inappropriate content.”

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