The investors at Amazon voted down a proposal for banning the sale of facial recognition software to government entities. The software raised concerns of bias and discrimination, but only 2.4 % of shareholders voted in favor of the proposal, lacking support for the overall 50% needed to pass.
Failure to Recognize a Face
Concerns over the facial recognition technology started last year after a study from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) found that the software known as “Rekognition” matched headshots of 28 Congress members to mugshots of criminals. Additionally, MIT Media Lab found the software had a difficult time identifying female human faces as well as the faces of darker-skinned people.
Many law enforcement agencies in the United States, including the Orlando Police Department and the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon, have used the technology. This prompted further concern from civilians, Artificial Intelligence specialists, and attorneys that when law enforcement uses this technology, it will target minorities and lead to false arrests.
Amazon’s response to the studies performed by the ACLU and MIT was that they were not using the recognition software properly, which is why they were experiencing improper results. They also said they encourage that law enforcement officials review any matches made. They continued to promote their software saying it had been used to identify over 2,000 victims of human trafficking.
The Vote Is In
Amazon held their annual meeting last week where investors voted on two separate issues that shareholders had brought to their attention. The first was to effectively ban sales of face recognition technology to government agencies unless they can evaluate and prove that the technology doesn’t harm anyone or contribute to violations of human rights.
The second fits hand in hand with the first issue, asking that Amazon have an independent study on “Rekognition” to determine whether or not the software does, in fact, pose a threat to minorities, if it would be sold to authoritarian regimes, and the overall financial risks that these issues could cause for Amazon itself.
Only 2.4% of the votes were for banning the technology, while 27.5% was given for Amazon creating its own study of the software. This meant that nothing received a majority vote. Though the proposals would not have immediately turned into a law that would take effect, the recent vote has stirred controversy over the use of facial recognition systems in general.
The Future of Face ID
Many institutions have been using this technology including Japan’s NEC Corp, Microsoft Corp, and Israel’s AnyVision. On the other hand, some organizations have taken action against facial recognition like the San Francisco Board of Supervisors who voted to ban the use of the software by law enforcement agencies.
Additionally, the Microsoft president has said his company rejected its own facial recognition software to a police department because they were concerned it would negatively impact not guilty people like women and other minorities. All that is known for sure is that the controversy over the budding technology in law enforcement has stirred Congress’ interest in how face recognition is used.
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