Move comes after IBM exited the market, citing concerns about technology’s use and company’s support of police reform
On the heels of IBM’s decision this week to bow out of the facial recognition security space, Amazon officials are banning the use of its own facial recognition technology by police for a year.
The Lowdown: In a brief two-paragraph statement, Amazon said it will continue to allow anti-human trafficking and exploitation organizations like Thorn, the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and Marinus Analytics – which work with police – to continue using its Rekognition product. But it’s put a one-year moratorium on the police themselves having access to the technology.
The Details: Like IBM, Amazon didn’t explicitly say its decision was linked to the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police on May 25, the ensuing protests by Black Lives Matter and other organizations, or any other police actions.
However, officials made it clear that the moratorium was put in place as part of the e-commerce giant’s larger push to have governments institute stronger regulations around the ethical use of facial recognition technology.
Rekognition uses machine learning techniques to enable organizations to identify people, objects, text, and activities in images and videos. It also will detect inappropriate content. It includes facial analysis and facial search capabilities for detecting, analyzing, and comparing faces for such use cases as user verification, people counting, and public safety.
Critics have questioned the accuracy of facial recognition technology and its use by police and other governmental entities.
The Impact: The massive protests in cities around the country over the past two-and-a-half weeks and the related instances of police violence against protestors have driven a broad array of tech companies to speak out in support of the protests and urge police reforms. Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote in a letter posted on the company’s website that Floyd’s killing was “shocking and tragic proof that we must aim far higher than a ‘normal’ future.” CEOs from other top-tier companies like Google and Microsoft also spoke out, and Google said it was giving $12 million to organizations that are working for racial equality.
It’s unclear how the moratorium will impact Amazon’s tech and channel partners, which can play a role in developing the technology and helping police departments and other organizations implement it.
Background: In his own statement, IBM CEO Arvind Krishna said the company opposed the use of any technology – including facial recognition – for such reasons as mass surveillance, racial profiling, or other encroachments on human rights. “Technology can increase transparency and help police protect communities but must not promote discrimination or racial injustice,” Krishna said, adding that IBM supports police reform efforts.
The Buzz: “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,” Amazon said in the statement. “We hope this one-year moratorium might give Congress enough time to implement appropriate rules, and we stand ready to help if requested.”