Amazon Shareholders Demand End to Facial Recognition Sales

Jeff Bezos is drawing the ire of Amazon shareholders who are demanding the tech behemoth stop selling the face-tracking software tool Rekognition to the government and law enforcement.

SEATTLE — Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN) and its CEO Jeff Bezos are encountering increased scrutiny from shareholders who want the tech giant to stop selling its facial recognition software to law enforcement, citing privacy concerns.

On June 16, about 20 shareholder groups sent a letter directly to Bezos raising concerns about Rekognition, Amazon‘s facial recognition tool.

Shareholders, including the Social Equity Group and Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investment, joined the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other privacy advocates in pointing out privacy violations and the dangers of mass surveillance.

“The undersigned Amazon (AMZN) shareholders are concerned such government surveillance infrastructure technology may not only pose a privacy threat to customers and other stakeholders across the country but may also raise substantial risks for our Company, negatively impacting our company’s stock valuation and increasing financial risk for shareholders,” the shareholder letter reads, according to Fast Company.

Rekognition, first introduced in 2016, detects objects and faces in images and videos. Customers, which include law enforcement in Orlando, Florida and Washington County, Oregon, can upload face databases to automatically identify individuals.

In one case, the Washington County sheriff’s office identified persons of interest, including a shoplifter caught on a hardware store’s cameras. The store camera’s image was automatically compared with thousands of photos of individuals processed while entering jail. This speeds up a process that used to rely on manual labor and the memory of police officers to identify people.

Rekognition is also used by a number of non-law enforcement customers, including Pinterest and C-SPAN. It was also used by Sky News to identify guests at the royal wedding, and Amazon says it is used by amusement parks to find lost children.

“While Rekognition may be intended to enhance some law enforcement activities, we are deeply concerned it may ultimately violate civil and human rights,” the shareholders said in the letter to Bezos.

The shareholders who co-signed the letter also said they were concerned that facial recognition technology “would be used to unfairly and disproportionately target and surveil people of color, immigrants, and civil society organizations.”

The letter comes as more than 70 civil rights organizations led by the ACLU are also delivering a petition to Bezos on Monday demanding the e-commerce giant get out of the surveillance business, according to BuzzFeed News.

In defense of Rekognition’s use by law enforcement, Amazon has said that it will suspend use for any customer who violates the law. The software has already been deployed to find abducted people, the company told Gizmodo last month.

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