Amazon has faced criticism over its facial recognition software in recent months, and now there's criticism coming from shareholders who are demanding Amazon not sell the software to government agencies.
Shareholders join a growing number of groups that are demanding Amazon to stop selling Rekognition to government agencies. Including civil liberties groups and Congress.
The software, named Rekognition, is software that Amazon's AWS division has developed, and is selling it to some government agencies. It allows them to identify people by the face. The only thing is, it isn't accurate. In fact, it identified 28 members of Congress last year, as known criminals, based on a database of around 25,000 mugshots. Now while Congress members are not the most beloved people, it does show just how inaccurate the software is.
Rekognition is not the only facial recognition software that has been shown to be pretty inaccurate. Facial recognition software in China mistakenly took a person from an ad on a bus and mistook it for a jaywalker walking across the street. Needless to say, Amazon is not the only one at fault here.
Aside from the fact that it is grossly inaccurate, many don't want facial recognition to be used by the government because it is an invasion of privacy. Though, living in the 21st century means that cameras are always watching you. So it's not much worse than what cameras are already doing all around us.
These other groups haven't had much luck in getting Amazon to stop selling – or at least marketing – this software to government agencies. It's currently being used by a law enforcement agency in Florida. However, when shareholders speak, the company generally listens. Seeing as shareholders are technically part owners of the company. The letter was sent to Amazon on December 19, and the shareholder resolution is expected to be voted on at Amazon's annual shareholder meeting in the Spring.
Shareholders are not asking Amazon to stop selling Rekognition to government agencies indefinitely. Just until Amazon can perfect it a bit more, so that it isn't so inaccurate. That's not a bad thing, and it actually will help Amazon's image, when it comes to this software. Right now, Rekognition is so inaccurate, that it is wrong more than it is right. And that it something that no company – let alone one the size of Amazon – should be selling to anyone.
The shareholders that wrote this letter to Amazon are not small investors either. Combined, the shareholders have over $1.32 billion in assets under management. Though CNBC did not mention whether that is how much they own of Amazon or if that is with all of their stocks, bonds and assets.
Amazon has not responded to this letter, publicly. It probably won't until the shareholder meeting, which usually takes place in May. This is something that Amazon would much prefer to keep under wraps and not out in the public. Seeing as it didn't even want people to know it was building a facial recognition software in the first place.