Just a month after the ACLU made Amazon’s sale of facial recognition technology to government authorities a matter of public debate, a group of prominent Amazon shareholders are calling on the company to halt such business activities, at least until the proper oversight is put in place.
The controversy concerns Rekognition, Amazon’s machine vision solution, and a recent ACLU report indicating that it’s being used by law enforcement agencies. The civil rights organization called on Amazon to stop selling this technology to the government, saying it poses a discrimination and civil liberties risks; and it looks like the argument has proven persuasive to at least some Amazon shareholders.
In a public letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, shareholders including Castlebar Asset Management, Sustainvest Asset Management, The Social Equity Group, Walden Asset Management, and several others, argue that “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 letter goes on to detail numerous concerns about facial recognition technology, which mostly boil down to a question of efficacy – such technology, they argue, may not be reliable and accurate enough to stop innocent people from being incorrectly flagged as criminal suspects, with systemic discrimination among racial and gender lines being a key concern. But the letter’s signatories also warn that such technology could be deliberately misused by authoritarian governments, if it’s ever sold to them.
“We believe our Company needs to immediately halt the expansion, further development, and marketing of Rekognition, and any other surveillance technologies, to all governments and government agencies, until there is a clear demonstration our Board of Directors has undertaken appropriate fiduciary oversight and placed appropriate guidelines and policies in place to safeguard the rights of our customers, shareholders, other stakeholders and citizens,” the letter concludes.
The shareholder letter may point toward the culmination of the ACLU’s strategy in targeting Amazon, and not government and law enforcement authorities, over the use of facial recognition surveillance on citizens. Even if government authorities are indifferent to the concerns of citizens, corporations must still respond to the public, and especially to shareholders, and Amazon is now in a position where it cannot ignore the controversy surrounding its machine vision technology.
June 20, 2018 – by Alex Perala