- On Tuesday, Amazon shareholders rejected a proposal seeking to halt the sale of the company's proprietary facial recognition software to governments, The New York Times reported Wednesday.
- The motion, led by activist shareholder group Open MIC, called on Jeff Bezos' company to stop the sale of the technology until the company can put in place internal mechanisms to review the potential risks of facial recognition technology when used by law enforcement and government agencies.
- Police departments in Florida and Oregon piloted the software platform, but reports of Amazon courting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as a client last summer point to Amazon's appetite for government contracts.
Decision makers at tech companies increasingly have to contend with the ethical and moral implications of innovation.
In the case of facial recognition, dozens of activist organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) warned that implicit bias in the algorithms that power the tool can lead to rights violations and targeting of communities of color.
"Shareholders do not have confidence that company executives are properly understanding or addressing the civil and human rights impacts of its role in facilitating pervasive government surveillance," said ACLU of Washington communications director Brian Robick. "This shareholder intervention should serve as a wake-up call for the company to reckon with the real harms of face surveillance and to change course."
Even if looking past the ethical considerations, there is also a business case for addressing the concerns around Amazon Rekognition, and the impact they could have on the trillion-dollar-company's brand.
"Investors have a right to know how Amazon intends to address these material risks to the company and its reputation," said Open MIC Executive Director Michael Connor in an email to CIO Dive. "As one of the leading technology companies in the world, Amazon can and must do better."
Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.