In 2016 Amazon introduced its new image recognition software with the purpose of adding “visual analysis features” to a client’s applications. Two years later, three dozen civil right groups—including the ACLU—are calling on Amazon to stop selling this technology, claiming it poses a serious threat to various communities.
The program, called Rekognition, can identify objects, text, and even activities such as “playing soccer.” The service also provides in-depth facial recognition and analysis, going as far as being able to detect a person’s mood and age range.
To date, most clients include tech companies like Pinterest, Spokeo, and Motorola. However, the service is also being used by law enforcement in cities like Orlando and Washington in Oregon, causing various organizations to be concerned about potential infringements on civil liberties and privacy rights.
Facial recognition systems have long struggled with racial and gender bias, with higher error rates for women and people of color. According to a recent study from MIT and Stanford University in which they analyzed data from three major facial recognition programs, the error rates for light-skinned men were never worse the 0.8 percent; however, error rates for darker-skinned women surpassed 20 percent.
“This product poses a grave threat to communities, including people of color and immigrants, and to the trust and respect Amazon has worked to build,” claims the ACLU in a letter published last week. “People should be free to walk down the street without being watched by the government. Facial recognition in American communities threatens this freedom.”
While the ACLU and other organizations believe Rekognition raises serious privacy and civil liberty concerns, Amazon has defended its service by saying it’s just a way for law enforcement to more easily catch criminals, also adding that they will suspend a customer’s right to the product if the service is being abused.
“Our quality of life would be much worse today if we outlawed new technology because some people could choose to abuse the technology,” said Amazon in a statement to TechCrunch. “Like any of our AWS [Amazon Web Services] services, we require our customers to comply with the law and be responsible when using Amazon Rekognition.”
Meanwhile, Orlando Police Chief John Mina said they were just testing out the technology and that no members of the public were entered for research—yet.