Amazon investors are turning up the heat on CEO Jeff Bezos with a new letter demanding he stop selling the company's controversial facial recognition technology to police. The shareholder proposal calls for Amazon to stop offering the product, called Rekognition, to government agencies until it undergoes a civil and human rights review. It follow similar criticisms voiced by 450 Amazon employees, as well as civil liberties groups and members of Congress, over the past several months. 'Rekognition contradicts Amazon's opposition to facilitating surveillance,' the letter states. '...Shareholders have little evidence our company is effectively restricting the use of Rekognition to protect privacy and civil rights.
Let's start with some comments about a recent ACLU blog in which they run a facial recognition trial. Using Rekognition, the ACLU built a face database using 25,000 publicly available arrest photos and then performed facial similarity searches of that database using public photos of all current members of Congress. They found 28 incorrect matches out of 535, using an 80% confidence level; this is a 5% misidentification (sometimes called'false positive') rate and a 95% accuracy rate. The ACLU has not published its data set, methodology, or results in detail, so we can only go on what they've publicly said. To illustrate the impact of confidence threshold on false positives, we ran a test where we created a face collection using a dataset of over 850,000 faces commonly used in academia.
For the last few years, police forces around China have invested heavily to build the world's largest video surveillance and facial recognition system, incorporating more than 170 million cameras so far. In a December test of the dragnet in Guiyang, a city of 4.3 million people in southwest China, a BBC reporter was flagged for arrest within seven minutes of police adding his headshot to a facial recognition database. And in the southeast city of Nanchang, Chinese police say that last month they arrested a suspect wanted for "economic crimes" after a facial recognition system spotted him at a pop concert amidst 60,000 other attendees. These types of stories, combined with reports that computer vision recognizes some types of images more accurately than humans, makes it seem like the Panopticon has officially arrived. In the US alone, 117 million Americans, or roughly one in two US adults, have their picture in a law enforcement facial-recognition database.
A growing backlash against face recognition suggests the technology has a reached a crucial tipping point, as battles over its use are erupting on numerous fronts. Face-tracking cameras have been trialled in public by at least three UK police forces in the last four years. A court case against one force, South Wales Police, began earlier this week, backed by human rights group Liberty. Ed Bridges, an office worker from Cardiff whose image was captured during a test in 2017, says the technology is an unlawful violation of privacy, an accusation the police force denies. Avoiding the camera's gaze has got others in trouble.
Cardboard cutouts of Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg stand outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington as he testified before a Senate panel last week. Cardboard cutouts of Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg stand outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington as he testified before a Senate panel last week. A federal judge in California has ruled that Facebook can be sued in a class-action lawsuit brought by users in Illinois who say the social network improperly used facial recognition technology on their uploaded photographs. The plaintiffs are three Illinois Facebook users who sued under a state law that says a private entity such as Facebook can't collect and store a person's biometric facial information without their written consent. The law, known as the Biometric Information Privacy Act, also says that information that uniquely identifies an individual is, in essence, their property.