In June 2018, the city of Orlando, Florida stopped a trial of Amazon-provided facial recognition technology called Rekognition -- it chose not to review its contract. This followed news stories and publicized letters from both civil rights groups and Amazon shareholders requesting that the company stop providing the software to police departments. Washington County, Oregon has also been using the technology.
"We are concerned the technology would be used to unfairly and disproportionately target and surveil people of color, immigrants and civil society organizations. We are concerned sales may be expanded to foreign governments, including authoritarian regimes,” shareholders wrote, according to CNN. They also pointed to Facebook’s recent privacy controversies as a cautionary example for tech companies.
While Orlando did not use images of the public or test the system in an investigation, 300,000 mug shots were uploaded in Oregon. The police used Rekognition to find four faces that might be a thief, linking the images with 80 percent similarity. They then used Facebook to continue their search, and both steps were helpful in the case, according to a June Amazon blog post.
"We believe it is the wrong approach to impose a ban on promising new technologies because they might be used by bad actors for nefarious purposes in the future,” General Manager of Artificial Intelligence at Amazon Web Services Matt Wood wrote on the company blog.
Along with the letter from shareholders, the American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU, and at least 70 other groups have now sent two letters to CEO Jeff Bezos protesting the use of facial recognition technology by the government.
Also, the Florida ACLU recently wrote to Orlando governance, expressing that people “should be free to walk down the street without being watched by the government.”
The city surveillance market rose above $3 billion in 2017, according to a report from IHS Market. In March 2018, China began to use a facial recognition system called "SkyNet" in 16 provinces that can reportedly scan through the country’s entire population in one second.
Software Developer Sachin Solkhan thinks facial recognition tech can have positive applications as well. He is testing out Amazon’s DeepLens camera, which provides facial recognition and launched in 2017, as a potential tool to aid Alzheimer’s patients. In theory, the camera would store images of important friends and objects and supply the user with their names as needed. According to Amazon, “DeepLens integrates with Amazon Rekognition for advanced image analysis, Amazon SageMaker for training models, and with Amazon Polly to create speech-enabled projects.” Amazon SageMaker is a machine-learning platform and Amazon Polly is a text-to-speech service.
Microsoft, Apple, Google and Facebook are also all developing facial recognition tech.