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Amazon staff protest firm’s sale of ‘unethical’ facial recognition tech

AN ANONYMOUS AMAZON STAFFER has hit out at the company for ignoring staffers repeated demands that it shelves plans to flog its “dangerous” to US law enforcement agencies.

The staffer, who claims to be a current Amazon employee, posted a letter to Medium in which he claims that 450 fellow staffers wrote to Jeff Bezos protesting the company’s decision to sell its ‘Rekognition’ facial recognition software to US cops.

This technology, Amazon claims, utilises a machine learning pattern-matching tool for video and photographs that enables “real-time face recognition across tens of millions of faces” and detection of up to 100 faces in crowded photos.

“Our concern isn’t one about some future harm caused by some other company: Amazon is designing, marketing, and selling a system for dangerous mass surveillance right now,” the unnamed employee writes.

“Amazon’s website brags of the system’s ability to store and search tens of millions of faces at a time. Law enforcement has already started using facial recognition with virtually no public oversight or debate or restrictions on use from Amazon.”

The author goes on to say that not only is the software “unethical”, but it also shows signs of racial bias – as highlighted by the fact that it falsely identified 28 members of Congress as people who have been arrested for crimes.

“The product we’re selling is a flawed technology that reinforces existing bias. Studies have shown that facial recognition is more likely to misidentify people with darker skin.

“Even if these inaccuracies were fixed, it would still be irresponsible, dangerous, and unethical to allow government use of this software. The existing biases that produced this bias exist within wider society and our justice system. The use of facial recognition will only reproduce and amplify existing systems of oppression.”

This isn’t the only backlash the technology has faced. It has also faced resistance from both the public and human rights groups, forcing Orlando to halt its trial of Rekognition. However, the City has since re-started tests, and this week entered the “second phase” of the pilot program. 

ACLU, for example, voiced concerns about “automating mass surveillance”, saying that it could allow targeting of protestors and minority groups, warning: “Once powerful surveillance systems like these are built and deployed, the harm will be extremely difficult to undo.”

Thus far, Amazon’s response has “radio silence,” the anonymous employee said. 

“We know Bezos is aware of these concerns and the industry-wide conversation happening right now. He acknowledged that big tech’s products might be misused, even exploited, by autocrats. But rather than meaningfully explain how Amazon will act to prevent the bad uses of its own technology, Bezos suggested we wait for society’s ‘immune response'”, the blog post continues.

“If Amazon waits, we think the harm will be difficult to undo.” µ

Further reading

Source : Inquirer

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