Amazon’s facial recognition technology has drawn controversy during its development, with mounting concerns towards known bias in machine learning and privacy. With Amazon on the cusp of licensing its aptly named Rekognition tech to US law enforcement, employees are now speaking out against the effort, calling it “unethical” and “dangerous.”
Using Medium, an alleged anonymous Amazon employee chastised the Big Brother-like technology, stating that 450 fellow colleagues have already written to CEO Jeff Bezos in protest. While intended to enable law enforcement to automatically search for people of interest, streamlining the arrest process, real-time face recognition across millions of faces also empowers authoritarian efforts.
“Our concern isn’t one about some future harm caused by some other company: Amazon is designing, marketing, and selling a system for dangerous mass surveillance right now,” states the nameless employee. “Amazon’s website brags of the system’s ability to store and search tens of millions of faces at a time. Law enforcement has already started using facial recognition with virtually no public oversight or debate or restrictions on use from Amazon.”
Beyond privacy concerns comes identified racial and gender bias in the technology. Much of what the unidentified employee writes here echoes what the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) originally said in May, as showcased through multiple falsely flagged “people of interest.”
“The product we’re selling is a flawed technology that reinforces existing bias. Studies have shown that facial recognition is more likely to misidentify people with darker skin,” they continue. “Even if these inaccuracies were fixed, it would still be irresponsible, dangerous, and unethical to allow government use of this software. The existing biases that produced this bias exist within wider society and our justice system. The use of facial recognition will only reproduce and amplify existing systems of oppression.”
The company has yet to publically indulge in the ongoing conversation, despite the publication claiming that “Bezos is aware” of the concerns. Instead, Amazon has just entered its second phase of testing Rekognition after initial complaints halted the trial in Orlando. It remains to be seen just how Amazon will prevent misuse of its technology, in which “harm will be extremely difficult to undo” once surveillance is implemented. Instead, Bezos allegedly suggests to “wait for society’s ‘immune response’.”
KitGuru Says: It sure would be nice to hear Amazon’s thoughts on the matter, however I’m sure the company wants to perfect its technology before making promises it can’t deliver on. Are you worried about mass surveillance or do you support the quicker way to identify people of interest?