Amazon.com has been under fire from activists since last year for marketing its Rekognition facial recognition software to law enforcement and government agencies. Now some of that activism is rubbing off on shareholders, a handful of whom are calling for the eCommerce giant to halt sales of the software.
According to a recent report in Bloomberg News, a group of investors including the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood, which is part of the Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investment, is backing the resolution created by Open MIC, a nonprofit focused on shareholder engagement. In an interview with Bloomberg Michael Connor, executive director of Open MIC argued that Amazon is just the latest example of a big tech company that is selling technology that it touts as a breakthrough without really looking at the potential harm it could cause. "Sales of Rekognition to government represent a considerable risk for the company and investors. That’s why it’s imperative those sales be halted immediately” Connor said in the report.
In July the American Civil Liberties Union found in a test it conducted of Rekognition, the software incorrectly matched 28 members of Congress, naming them as people who have been arrested for a crime. The ACLU said the members of Congress falsely matched with a mugshot were across party lines, sex, and age. The false matches were also disproportionately people of color including six members of the Congressional Black Caucus. “These results demonstrate why Congress should join the ACLU in calling for a moratorium on law enforcement use of face surveillance,” the ACLU wrote at the time.
It's not just investors who are calling for Amazon to stop selling the software to law enforcement and government agencies. In October hundreds of the eCommerce giant's employees signed a letter penned to CEO Jeff Bezos calling on the company to stop selling the software to law enforcement. The concerns of the employees were reportedly dismissed by Andy Jassy, Chief Executive Officer of Amazon Web Services, who the media quoted as saying those concerns aren’t shared with a wide swath of Amazon’s employees and that the management is comfortable selling it to government agencies. "With over 500,000 employees like we have at Amazon, I think we're going to have people who have opinions that are very wide-ranging, which is great," Jassy said, according to a transcript provided to BuzzFeed News. "But we feel really great and really strongly about the value that Amazon Rekognition is providing our customers of all sizes and all types of industries in law enforcement and out of law enforcement."