Amazon rejects facial recognition, climate change proposals

The logo of Amazon is seen on the door of an Amazon Books retail store in New York

The logo of Amazon is seen on the door of an Amazon Books retail store in New York

According to an Amazon spokeswoman, the resolutions failed by a wide margin.

The outcome is unsurprising following Amazon's pleas to the Securities Exchange Commission to stop the proposals from coming to a vote. Amazon has also pitched it to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Amazon's board argued that it has already invested the resources to act on climate change, and to prevent its facial-recognition technology from ever being abused.

"Today's annual meeting makes clear that this issue is not going to go away: Amazon's refusal to acknowledge and confront the potential harms of Rekognition is ongoing evidence of corporate arrogance".

The ACLU criticized Amazon past year for selling the facial recognition service to states and cities.

It has become such a hot issue that companies like Microsoft and Google are rejecting requests for the technologies to be used by some agencies.

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"Your vote on these proposals will help chart the course for the kind of society we'll have to live in, and whether that society will be forced to suffer under continuous, inescapable, and risky government surveillance", the ACLU said.

Another proposal rejected by shareholders called for an independent study of Rekognition to assess the extent to which such technology could endanger privacy or civil rights, or disproportionately target people of colour, immigrants or activists in the US.

The union's open letter came two days before an Amazon investors' meeting to be held on Wednesday.

Rekognition is hosted at Amazon data centres in the Internet cloud, and its capabilities are sold as services to subscribers who don't download the software, keeping it in Amazon's control.

Adding to shareholders' concerns was recent research that showed Amazon's technology struggled to identify the gender of individuals with darker skin, prompting fears that a faulty technology would put innocent people behind bars. The MIT study said that "algorithmic justice necessitates a transformation in the development, deployment, oversight, and regulation of facial analysis technology". "It demonstrates 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", Shankar Narayan, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, told Gizmodo in a statement. Regardless of the outcome, the fact that Amazon is facing direct pressure on its technology will be cited as proof of the widespread concerns, which could offer more motivation to cities to step up their scrutiny. "We have not seen law enforcement agencies use Amazon Rekognition to infringe on citizens' civil liberties", the company said. In an open letter, the ACLU said lawmakers are "hearing the alarm bells" about what the group called "perhaps the most risky surveillance technology ever developed".

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