Activist Shareholders Push Amazon to Stop Selling Facial Recognition Software

January 17, 2019, 2:24 PM UTC

A group of activist shareholders are proposing that Amazon stop selling facial recognition software to government agencies until its board determines the technology doesn’t threaten people’s civil rights.

The investors, including the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood, a member of the Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investment, filed a resolution on the subject to be voted on at Amazon’s annual meeting later this year.

Civil rights groups blasted Amazon in 2018 for marketing its Rekognition service to police departments and government agencies. Thursday’s resolution, organized by nonprofit Open MIC, adds a financial twist and brings the debate into Amazon’s board room (AMZN).

“It’s a familiar pattern: A leading tech company marketing what is hailed as breakthrough technology without understanding or assessing the many real and potential harms of that product,” said Michael Connor, executive director of Open MIC. “Sales of Rekognition to government represent considerable risk for the company and investors. That’s why it’s imperative those sales be halted immediately.”

The Amazon Web Services product has been used to identify celebrities at Hollywood events. It can also be used by law enforcement agencies to quickly identify suspects from jail booking photos or other sources.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Project on Government Oversight say the facial recognition technology is unreliable and can produce more false positives for people with darker skin, making them more likely to be suspects in criminal investigations.

Amazon Web Services Chief Executive Officer Andy Jassy in November said Amazon is working to educate government officials about how to use the software, and said it is only used as a tool in investigations, not the sole factor considered in identifying suspects.