Amazon Halts Use Of 'Racist' Facial Recognition Software By Police

Amazon Halts Use Of 'Racist' Facial Recognition Software By Police

by Tyler Durden Wed, 06/10/2020 - 18:10

As we have detailed numerous times over the past few years (here, here, here, and here), facial recognition systems are becoming more and more mainstream and accepted by an increasing number of 'average joes' around the world as the cost of security (or just ease of life).

The problem is, as we detailed previously, for some segments of society, it is wildly inaccurate.

During a test run by the ACLU of Northern California, facial recognition misidentified 26 members of the California legislature as people in a database of arrest photos.

Specifically, after Oakland and San Francisco voted against the use of facial recognition, Rep. Tashida Tlaib claimed that “the error rate among African-Americans, especially women,” was 60 percent.

And that perhaps explains Jeff Bezos' sudden decision - just a day after IBM loudly proclaimed its decision to quit the facial recognition business - to halt sales of its Rekognition system to police forces in America:

We’re implementing a one-year moratorium on police use of Amazon’s facial recognition technology. We will continue to allow organizations like Thorn, the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and Marinus Analytics to use Amazon Rekognition to help rescue human trafficking victims and reunite missing children with their families.

We’ve advocated that governments should put in place stronger regulations to govern the ethical use of facial recognition technology, and in recent days, Congress appears ready to take on this challenge. We hope this one-year moratorium might give Congress enough time to implement appropriate rules, and we stand ready to help if requested.

This decision comes two years after the ACLU demanded Amazon "stop selling affordable surveillance" to police forces across America.

“We demand that Amazon stop powering a government surveillance infrastructure that poses a grave threat to customers and communities across the country. Amazon should not be in the business of providing surveillance systems like Rekognition to the government.”

The letter said Amazon had promoted itself as a “customer-centric company,” but that seems not to be the case with Rekognition, as it is a powerful mass surveillance tool readily available to violate rights.

“Amazon touts itself as a customer-centric company and directs its leadership to “work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust.” In the past, Amazon has opposed secret government surveillance. And you [Jeff Bezos] have personally supported First Amendment freedoms and spoken out against the discriminatory Muslim Ban. But Amazon’s Rekognition product runs counter to these values. As advertised, Rekognition is a powerful surveillance system readily available to violate rights and target communities of color.”

Amazon also previously said that it's Rekognition facial recognition software could detect a person's fear, according to CNBC.

As one of several Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud services, Rekognition can be used for facial analysis or sentiment analysis by identifying different expressions and predicting emotions based on images of people's faces. The system uses AI to 'learn' as it compiles data.

The tech giant revealed updates to the controversial tool on Monday that include improving the accuracy and functionality of its face analysis features such as identifying gender, emotions and age range.

“With this release, we have further improved the accuracy of gender identification,” Amazon said in a blog post. “In addition, we have improved accuracy for emotion detection (for all 7 emotions: ‘Happy’, ‘Sad’, ‘Angry’, ‘Surprised’, ‘Disgusted’, ‘Calm’ and ‘Confused’) and added a new emotion: ‘Fear.’” -CNBC

But while Amazon may be 'pausing' its spyware sales, China's tech behemoths are pushing ahead, taking the process of training their algos on non-white faces to a whole new level trying to 'fix' this extremely high-level of inaccuracy for certain cohorts by tricking black people into being scanned.

On top of concerns by activists, community leaders, and politicians, 450 of Amazon’s employees signed a letter of protest to Bezos to “demand that we stop” sales of the controversial software immediately, and one brave soul published, anonymously, a heartfelt call to arms in an editorial on Medium:

“Amazon talks a lot about values of leadership. If we want to lead, we need to choose between people and profits. We can sell dangerous surveillance systems to police, or we can stand up for what’s right. We can’t do both.”

While Amazon's decision may be lauded as the latest virtue-signaling move by the world's richest man, we note this is a 12 month moratorium, not a complete cessation, and as previously written, “we are entering the Minority Report; there is no going back after this technology is public and citizens are indoctrinated that it’s ‘for their safety.’”

At that point, we are officially trading liberty and privacy for security. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”


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