Amazon’s ethically questionable surveillance technology

Amazon under fire for Rekognition facial software

In a disconcerting move, Amazon employees met with ICE officials in 2018 to market their emerging facial recognition technology, Rekognition.

Then last month, Amazon doubled down by partnering their home security company, Ring, with police departments across the United States. Their goal is to create a self-perpetuating anti-crime surveillance network using publicly funded street cameras and private Amazon devices. But to aid this effort, Amazon has been covertly encouraging police departments to spread surveillance tech throughout consumer households by holding free Ring camera giveaways.

With the increasing rate of controversial crackdowns on U.S. immigrants (and legal citizens), this combination of ICE’s relationship with Amazon, and the company’s secretive home surveillance efforts, are leading to some troubling implications.

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If this sounds a bit farfetched, remember, the company has already been caught actively spying on their users for years.

Protests against Amazon

There’s abundant outcry surrounding this news, with Amazon customers, warehouse and tech employees, and even company shareholders voicing their objections.

Considering Amazon’s determined marketing to ICE, their ongoing cooperation with Palantir (a Silicon Valley data mining company assisting ICE’s deportation efforts), and the company’s consistent attempts to avoid questions regarding these matters, there’s certainly a lot for ethically-conscious people to be concerned about.

Protests regarding these issues have occurred everywhere from the company’s annual AWS summit in New York, to Prime-Day demonstrations nationwide. Additionally, more than 500 Amazon employees have signed a letter that’s circulated since June of 2018 to condemn these actions.

But as of yet, the company hasn’t addressed their concerns with any sincerity.

Amazon’s Justification

Shortly after the first complaints about Amazon’s involvement with ICE, company Vice President Brian Huseman stated in a New York council meeting, “We believe the government should have the best available technology” to a chorus of booing.

When it comes to the more recent red flags surrounding police surveillance, Amazon presented a defense by posting the webpage, Facts on Facial Recognition with Artificial Intelligence.

On that page, the largest concerns mentioned are the possibility of false positives when trying to match faces to databases. It also talks exclusively about how the technology “should” be used, and nothing about how to ensure it isn’t abused. Virtually nothing is said about the social responsibility of pushing this tech into dangerous hands, save for small measures. For instance, the page mentions “…facial recognition software should not be used autonomously” for public safety, but not much else.

This lackadaisical response to widespread fears makes it clear that Amazon doesn’t care if the tech they share is harmful. That, as long as Amazon’s services work properly and are profitable, they’ll happily invest in the violation of human rights.