Amazon is being urged by its investors to stop selling its facial-recognition software to government agencies because of concerns among them that such technology can be used to trample rights of people.
A group of Amazon shareholders brought together a resolution seeking the board of the company to stop selling its face recognition tool Rekognition to government agencies unless an evaluation that the tool “does not cause or contribute to actual or potential violations of civil and human rights” is ascertained by a third party.
Open MIC, a nonprofit that encourages focuses on activism by investors in tech and media companies, was behind organizing he investor group. The religious order Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood is one of the organizational investors behind the resolution and the group is anticipating that the board of Amazon would put the resolution for voting at the annual general meeting of the online retailing company later this spring.
Resolutions brought in by shareholders are rarely approved, and they are not of a binding nature. This means that even if the facial recognition resolution gets passed in the AGM of Amazon, it would not be binding on the Amazon board to follow it. The number of Amazon’s stock it holds was not made clear by the group of shareholders.
Deep learning, which makes use of artificial technology for identification of patterns in data is used in Rekognition. It is used for identification of objects such as cats or a sofa, faces, scenes in video images and images. The tool can be used to identify the faces of people – and ultimately their identity, that enter a courthouse in real time thereby helping to know if any criminal has entered it by comparing the data with a criminal database. A number of US government customers, including police departments in Florida and Oregon, have made use of the tool which was released in 2016.
There have been a number of organizations such as the shareholders group of Amazon who have on previous occasions raised objection to the potential hazardous use of AI – facial recognition specifically.
The technology and software of facial-recognition can have its own errors despite it can be useful for combating issues such as sex trafficking. July last year, one of the negative issues related to facial recognition technology was highlighted by the American Civil Liberties Union, which is opposed to Amazon selling the software to the US government. The organization claimed that in tests that were conducted by it on Rekognition erroneously matched 28 members of Congress with mugshots in a database and the errors were found to be occurring more with people of colour.
There were no comments available from Amazon about the shareholder resolution.
Amazon would continue to have business relations with the various government agencies, including the US Department of Defense, Jedd Bezos had said in October. .
“If big tech companies are going to turn their back on the DoD, this country is going to be in trouble,” he had said on stage for the Wired25 conference in San Francisco.
(Adapted from Business.CNN.com)