Amazon shareholders want the company to stop selling facial recognition to law enforcement

Amazon shareholders are demanding the company stop selling Rekognition, the company’s facial recognition software, to law enforcement. Unless the board of directors determines the technology “does not cause or contribute to actual or potential violations of civil and human rights,” shareholders want Amazon to stop selling the software to government agencies.

Rekognition, which is part of Amazon Web Services, has the ability to conduct image and video analyses of faces. Amazon has reportedly sold Rekognition to law enforcement agencies in at least two states. Amazon has also reportedly pitched this software to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Last May, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California shed some light on Rekognition, saying it had obtained documents that raise “profound civil liberties and civil rights concerns.” In one test, the ACLU found Rekognition wrongly identified 28 members of Congress, disproportionately confusing Congress members of color as criminals. Though, Amazon has since tried to debunk some of the ACLU’s claims.

In a blog post, Dr. Matt Wood of AWS said,

The default confidence threshold for facial recognition APIs in Rekognition is 80%, which is good for a broad set of general use cases (such as identifying celebrities on social media or family members who look alike in photos apps), but it’s not the right setting for public safety use cases. The 80% confidence threshold used by the ACLU is far too low to ensure the accurate identification of individuals; we would expect to see false positives at this level of confidence.

He added,

When we set the confidence threshold at 99% (as we recommend in our documentation), our misidentification rate dropped to zero despite the fact that we are comparing against a larger corpus of faces (30x larger than the ACLU test).

This resolution, organized by nonprofit organization Open MIC, represents a group of shareholders that represent a total of $1.32 billion in assets under management.

“It’s a familiar pattern: a leading tech company marketing what is hailed as breakthrough technology without understanding or assessing the many real and potential harms of that product,” Open MIC Executive Director Michael Connor wrote in a blog post. “Sales of Rekognition to government represent considerable risk for the company and investors. That’s why it’s imperative those sales be halted immediately.”

Shareholders intend for this resolution to be voted on in Amazon’s annual meeting this spring.

Amazon initially declined to comment for this story, but later provided some additional context. The additional context has been integrated into this story.