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?
Microsoft claims its facial recognition technology just got a little less awful. Earlier this year, a study by MIT researchers found that tools from IBM, Microsoft, and Chinese company Megvii could correctly identify light-skinned men with 99-percent accuracy. But it incorrectly identified darker-skinned women as often as one-third of the time. Now imagine a computer incorrectly flagging an image at an airport or in a police database, and you can see how dangerous those errors could be. Microsoft's software performed poorly in the study.
Workers at Amazon have demanded that their employer stop the sale of facial recognition software and other services to the US government. In a letter addressed to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and posted on the company's internal wiki, employees said that they "refuse to contribute to tools that violate human rights," citing the mistreatment of refugees and immigrants by ICE and the targeting of black activists by law enforcement. The letter follows similar protests at Google and Microsoft. "As ethically concerned Amazonians, we demand a choice in what we build, and a say in how it is used," says the letter, first reported by The Hill. The employees (it's not clear how many signed the letter) refer to the sale of computer services by IBM to the Nazis as a worrying parallel.
An image from the product page of Amazon's Rekognition service, which provides image and video facial and item recognition and analysis. SAN FRANCISCO -- The Orlando Police Department in Florida is planning to continue its test of a facial recognition program from Amazon, despite outcry from civil rights and privacy groups that law enforcement and government agencies could abuse the technology. OPD announced last month that the trial proof of concept run of the software had expired, but OPD public information officer, Sgt. Eduardo Bernal, said in a release Monday that the department will continue its testing of the program. Two years ago, Amazon built the facial and product recognition tool, called Rekognition, as a way for customers to quickly search a database of images and look for matches.
Amazon is now using facial recognition to verify its delivery drivers' identities. Specifically, the change applies to people who drive for Amazon Flex, the retail giant's program that allows contract workers to deliver Amazon packages using their own cars. Now, Amazon will start verifying their identities using a combination of selfies and facial recognition. The new development was reported by The Verge after the Amazon Flex app began notifying drivers they needed to start taking selfies in the app. Amazon has said the change is meant to reduce fraud and ensure only people authorized to deliver packages are able to access Amazon Flex.