Amazon will sell its facial-recognition technology to whomever it damn well pleases thank you very much.
That message was loud and clear Wednesday morning at the company’s annual shareholder meeting, where two proposals meant to regulate the sale and investigate the use of Amazon’s Rekognition technology were opposed by the company and voted down by shareholders. The failed effort to limit the sale of its controversial product to law enforcement comes at a time when Rekognition is increasingly being criticized for biases and false positives.
Amazon confirmed to Mashable via email that both proposals failed. Our questions regarding the specific vote tallies on each, as well as the company’s response to criticism over Rekognition, were not answered.
The first of the two proposals, if passed, would have at least temporarily stopped the sale of Rekognition to governments around the world.
“[Shareholders] request that the Board of Directors prohibit sales of facial recognition technology to government agencies unless the Board concludes, after an evaluation using independent evidence, that the technology does not cause or contribute to actual or potential violations of civil and human rights,” it read.
The second measure requested an “independent study” of Rekognition and a subsequent report to shareholders detailing, among other things, “[the] extent to which such technology may endanger, threaten, or violate privacy and or civil rights, and unfairly or disproportionately target or surveil people of color, immigrants and activists in the United States[.]”
Amazon, which in January of this year was very publicly criticized for selling Rekognition to the feds, flat out rejected both.
On Wednesday morning, before the vote, the ACLU urged Amazon to change its surveillance tech policies.
We’re at @Amazon‘s shareholder meeting today urging shareholders to take action in response to the company’s failure to address the civil rights impacts of its face surveillance technology.
Ironically, Amazon won’t allow cameras into the meeting, so we’ve filmed a short preview: pic.twitter.com/tNN4pkK4tG
— ACLU (@ACLU) May 22, 2019
Face surveillance arms governments with unprecedented power to track, control, and harm people. It is perhaps the most dangerous surveillance technology ever developed, and it needs to come under democratic control.
— ACLU (@ACLU) May 22, 2019
“We’re at @Amazon’s shareholder meeting today urging shareholders to take action in response to the company’s failure to address the civil rights impacts of its face surveillance technology,” tweeted the civil liberties organization.
Some, but as of yet not a voting majority, of the company’s shareholders are clearly receptive to that message.
And so with the calls for reform coming from both inside and outside its house, Amazon won’t be able to put the issue of Rekognition behind it anytime soon — even with its victory today. But hey, moral and ethical headwinds have never stopped Amazon’s continuous march toward dominance before.