Amazon Will Pause Facial Recognition Projects, but Only for a Year

Written by Bill Toulas
Last updated September 25, 2021

Amazon released a short statement, declaring that they are willing to follow in the footsteps of IBM by implementing a one-year moratorium on police use of their facial recognition technology. Amazon has been one of the most significant contractors and collaborators of the police in the past few years, even training police officers on how to convince people to use Ring products and make the most out of the shared footage. So, here is the Amazon announcement:

“We’re implementing a one-year moratorium on police use of Amazon’s facial recognition technology. We will continue to allow organizations like Thorn, the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and Marinus Analytics to use Amazon Rekognition to help rescue human trafficking victims and reunite missing children with their families.

We’ve advocated that governments should put in place stronger regulations to govern the ethical use of facial recognition technology, and in recent days, Congress appears ready to take on this challenge. We hope this one-year moratorium might give Congress enough time to implement appropriate rules, and we stand ready to help if requested.”

Amazon is clearly standing by IBM’s side on the matter, calling the Congress to consider the need for laws and regulations that will determine the lawful context of using facial recognition technologies. As the tech firm states, they believe that giving the lawmakers a full year should be enough time for them to respond to the challenge.

It is clear that the privacy concerns raised by the COVID-19 situation and the reignition of the “Black Lives Matter” protests across the USA have obliged tech giants to reconsider where they stand on crucial matters. Not everyone is convinced by Amazon’s short statement, though.

Amazon has not expressed any intention to revisit how its technology works and to correct fundamental issues that undermine people’s privacy or put them to risk. IBM hasn’t merely paused its facial recognition systems development, nor has it given a deadline to the lawmakers. They chose to retract and stop everything until a strong and adequate policy is in place. Amazon’s announcement is nowhere near that. Also, IBM has tried to help themselves as well as others to deal with racial bias by offering a set of diverse data to use for AI training last year. Amazon has done nothing on that part, and while the racial bias problems of its “Neighbors” app has been well-documented, they haven’t shown the intention to do anything about it.

Amazon may use this year to correct “false matching” problems and make its facial recognition systems more effective, but do they even care about how its products are being deployed? People can’t accuse them of anything right now, but the signs aren’t providing a solid and fertile ground for hope to flourish. The American Civil Liberties Union shares the same feeling, as they fail to see how one year of pause will redirect this technology to a socially fair direction. They are characterizing Amazon’s surveillance technology as a threat to people’s civil rights and liberties, and call the company to commit to a lot more than just a year of freezing the program.

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