Amazon shareholders to vote on facial recognition

Annual general meeting will be used to vote on the sale and ethics of Rekognition to government agencies

Man using facial recognition on phone

Amazon shareholders are set to vote on whether or not the tech giant should continue to sell its facial recognition tech to government agencies.

The firm is holding its annual general meeting on Wednesday and the subject of facial recognition will be of the main priorities.

Shareholders will not only vote on the sale of the technology, but they will also vote on whether 'Rekognition', the company's facial recognition service, should be reviewed by an independent body.

"Shareholders are concerned Amazon's facial recognition technology poses risk to civil and human rights and shareholder value," Amazon's AGM notes state. "Civil liberties organisations, academics and shareholders have demanded Amazon halt sales of Rekognition to government, concerned that our company is enabling a surveillance system readily available to violate rights and target communities of colour."

It's worth noting that the votes are non-binding, meaning executives do not have to take specific action whatever the outcome. But Amazon had tried to block the votes but was told by the Securities and Exchange Commission that it did not have the right to do so.

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In the notes, Amazon has urged its shareholders to vote against the proposals saying it had not received a single report of the system being used in a harmful manner. But the technology is under considerable scrutiny, mostly due to controversial use by law enforcement.

It was revealed in October last year that Amazon met up with the controversial US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) department to discuss the intricacies of Rekognition with the possibility the agency could use it to identify people crossing US borders.

"Any company in this space that willingly hands facial recognition software over to a government, be it America or another nation's, is willfully endangering people's lives," said Brian Brackeen, the former CEO of facial recognition company Kairos.

The debate over the ethical use of facial recognition has seen a lot of tech companies and governments reassess its deployment. Most recently, San Francisco became the first city to ban its use by government departments and agencies.

The technology can be used to rapidly identify individuals for security purposes, but there has been a number of cases where the data collected from the technology has been plagued with bias and or inaccuracies. Or, more worryingly, it has just been used inappropriately. Such as the New York Police using a celebratory photo to find a criminal with a similar face.

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