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Amazon just announced that it's going to suspend police use of its controversial facial-recognition technology for one year

Rosalie Chan
  • On Wednesday, Amazon announced it would suspend police use of its controversial facial-recognition technology, Rekognition, for one year.
  • Amazon last week put out a statement against police brutality and systemic racism, but advocates pointed out Amazon works with many police departments and that studies have shown Rekognition is biased against Black people and other people with darker skin.
  • Amazon still plans to sell Rekognition to groups that help rescue human-trafficking victims.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

Amazon announced Wednesday that it would suspend police use of its controversial facial-recognition technology for one year after advocates and workers slammed the company for supporting the George Floyd protesters while still promoting its technology to police.

Amazon Web Services has sold its facial-recognition software, called Rekognition, to police departments across the country, but numerous studies have found bias in the software that disproportionately targets Black people and other people with darker skin. Just last week, Amazon made statements against police brutality and systemic racism amid protests against police brutality that erupted after the killing of Floyd.

This rang hollow to many advocates, as AWS had still been working with police departments despite studies showing that Black people are more likely to be stopped, searched, or killed by police. A study led by MIT Media Lab researcher Joy Buolamwini in 2019 showed Rekognition had difficulty in identifying gender in faces with darker skin and female faces.

The American Civil Liberties Union found in 2018 the software incorrectly matched 28 members of Congress with people who have been arrested for a crime and that false matches were disproportionately of people of color, including six members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Amazon still plans 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, it said. The company also said it advocated for governments to add stronger regulations governing how facial-recognition technology could be used. AWS declined further comment when Business Insider asked in what ways the company was advocating with the government.

"We hope this one-year moratorium might give Congress enough time to implement appropriate rules, and we stand ready to help if requested," an Amazon blog post said.

Amazon's move follows IBM's decision to stop selling facial-recognition software and call for a "national dialogue" on the way the technology is used for law enforcement.

Several advocacy groups, including the ACLU and MediaJustice, had already called on Amazon to stop selling the software to law enforcement. Amazon still works with more than 600 police departments across country to enable officers to request video footage from people's Ring devices in the area of a suspected crime. On Tuesday, police pinned to the ground and arrested a Black Amazon delivery driver who authorities said parked the wrong way in Warren, Michigan, and the officers' department uses Ring, FOX 2 Detroit reported.

In the past, AWS CEO Andy Jassy dismissed employees' concerns about selling Rekognition to law enforcement. He said the company's terms of service would prevent its software from being used for bad purposes, though in a recent interview, he said the company wasn't aware of how police are using it, or even how many police departments have access.

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