Amazon shareholders have voted down proposals of the company’s controversial facial recognition tool (Rekognition) and want to limit its carbon output over environmental concerns.
The vote came in the wake of the tool having biases such as under-performs at identifying darker-skinned individuals and women, according to some researchers. In an MIT study, when identifying white men, the tool performed with 100% accuracy, but that accuracy dropped dramatically when identifying women of color, to 69%.
An Amazon spokesperson previously told Forbes that test results on facial analysis, rather than facial recognition being used by law enforcement, can’t be correlated.
“The research is being done is on facial analysis, not facial recognition, and these are two totally different technologies. It’s an apples and oranges comparison. It’s impossible to draw correlations of facial analysis test and try to confer them to any kind of meaning or implications for facial recognition.”
In January, Amazon sent a letter to the SEC indicating that it was not aware of law enforcement customers misusing Rekognition software.
“We have not seen law enforcement agencies use Amazon Rekognition to infringe on citizens’ civil liberties,” Amazon said in a statement. The SEC letter also noted that the tool was not a financial risk.
A year ago shareholders, as well as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other civil rights organizations, urged Amazon to stop selling the software, yet the company continued to market Rekognition to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Other large technology companies like Google said it will not offer facial recognition software until policy implications can be worked out. The government has also taken steps to limit the use of the technology until it’s determined that it is not a threat to human rights.
San Francisco became the first city to ban the use of facial recognition last week, citing privacy and civil rights concerns, especially for people of color. Oakland, California, and Somerville, Massachusetts are also considering banning the technology.
The proposals, which were driven by shareholding activists and employees, were nonbinding, but represented a moment of defiance against Amazon. The company’s Rekognition tool, which is sold to law enforcement, has been criticized on civil liberties grounds, and employees have said the company could be doing more to fight climate change.
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