Amazon may not have much choice but to address mounting criticism over its sales of facial recognition tech to governments. The American Civil Liberties Union has delivered both a petition and a letter from 17 investors demanding that Amazon drop its Rekognition system and exit the surveillance business. While the two sides have somewhat different motivations, they share one thing in common: a concern for privacy. Both groups are worried that Amazon is handing governments surveillance power they could easily use to violate civil rights, particularly for minorities and immigrants. They could use it to track and intimidate protesters, for instance.
Amazon has some explaining to do. The online retail giant has been caught providing facial recognition technology to law enforcement in Oregon and Orlando, according to documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union through a Freedom of Information Act Request. Emails obtained through the request show how Amazon has been advertising and selling its facial recognition product, Rekognition, for only a few dollars a month to law enforcement agencies -- in the hopes that they would encourage other agencies to sign up. The emails also show Amazon has marketed consulting services to law enforcement as well. SEE ALSO: What would an Amazon Alexa robot look like?
Intel and Amazon are partnering to combine the former's silicon and smarts with the latter's Alexa voice platform. The chipmaker has introduced the Intel Speech Enabling Developer Kit to provide a "complete audio front-end solution for far-field voice control," according to a press release. The idea is that Intel has done the hard work of designing the mic arrays and voice systems and that all developers will need to do is write applications for them. It offers algorithms for echo cancellation and beam forming, wake words, an 8-mic array and the company's dual digital signal processor.
Amazon's latest artificial intelligence tool is a piece of image recognition software that can learn to guess a human's age. The feature is powered by Amazon's Rekognition platform, which is a developer toolkit that exists as part of the company's AWS cloud computing service. So long as you're willing to go through the process of signing up for a basic AWS account -- that entails putting in credit card info but Amazon won't charge you -- you can try the age-guessing software for yourself. In what sounds like a smart move on Amazon's end, the tool gives a wide range instead of trying to pinpoint a specific number, along with the likelihood that the subject of the image is smiling or wearing glasses. Microsoft tried the latter approach back in 2015 with its own AI tool, resulting in some hilariously bad estimates that exposed fundamental weaknesses in how these types of image recognition algorithms function.
Amazon is drawing the ire of its shareholders after an investigation found that it has been marketing powerful facial recognition tools to police. Nearly 20 groups of Amazon shareholders delivered a signed letter to CEO Jeff Bezos on Friday, pressuring the company to stop selling the software to law enforcement. The tool, called'Rekognition', was first released in 2016, but has since been selling it on the cheap to several police departments around the country, with Washington County Sheriff's Office in Oregon and the city of Orlando, Florida among its customers. Shareholders, including the Social Equity Group and Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investment, join the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other privacy advocates in pointing out privacy violations and the dangers of mass surveillance. 'We are concerned the technology would be used to unfairly and disproportionately target and surveil people of color, immigrants, and civil society organizations,' the shareholders write.