An Amazon staffer says over 450 US employees wrote to Jeff Bezos demanding Amazon stop selling facial-recognition software to police

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images
  • An anonymous Amazon employee demanded in an op-ed article on Medium that the company stop selling its facial-recognition software, Rekognition, to police forces.
  • The employee said that more than 450 Amazon staffers wrote to CEO Jeff Bezos asking for the same thing a few weeks ago but hadn’t heard back.
  • The letter also demanded Amazon kick the software company Palantir off Amazon Web Services, according to the employee.

An anonymous Amazon employee demanded in an op-ed article on Medium, published Tuesday, that the company stop selling its facial-recognition software to police forces.

Medium said it verified the authenticity of the op-ed article and interviewed the employee. In it, the person said that more than 450 Amazon workers wrote to CEO Jeff Bezos a few weeks ago to demand the company stop selling the software, called Rekognition, to police, but that they hadn’t heard back.

The employee said the letter also demanded that the software company Palantir be kicked off Amazon Web Services, citing its links to a deportation and tracking program used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Attendees of this year’s Burning Man festival protested Palantir and Amazon for the same reason.

Gizmodo reported in June that Amazon staffers sent a letter to Bezos protesting Rekognition and Palantir, though it’s unclear whether it’s the same letter mentioned in the op-ed article.

Amazon did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.

The anonymous employee took aim at Bezos’ continued support for Rekognition.

“We know Bezos is aware of these concerns and the industry-wide conversation happening right now,” they said. “On stage, he acknowledged that big tech’s products might be misused, even exploited, by autocrats. But rather than meaningfully explain how Amazon will act to prevent the bad uses of its own technology, Bezos suggested we wait for society’s ‘immune response.'”

In an interview with Trevor Timm, a Medium columnist, the employee said there hadn’t been any response to the letter.

“So far it’s been radio silence,” the employee said. “There’s been no official response to the letter and certainly no apparent change in how they market Rekognition.”

Rekognition has come under fire in the past amid allegations that it infringes on people’s civil rights. The American Civil Liberties Union said in July that it conducted an experiment that found that Rekognition wrongly identified 28 members of Congress as people who had previously been arrested.

“Face surveillance also threatens to chill First Amendment-protected activity like engaging in protest or practicing religion, and it can be used to subject immigrants to further abuse from the government,” the ACLU said in a blog post at the time.

Amazon pushed back on the results, saying the ACLU’s experiment could have been improved had it configured its settings better.

The anonymous employee said in the op-ed article that the Amazon staffers who wrote the letter to Bezos were following in the footsteps of similar actions by employees at Google and Microsoft.

“Amazon talks a lot about values of leadership,” the employee wrote. “If we want to lead, we need to make a choice between people and profits. We can sell dangerous surveillance systems to police or we can stand up for what’s right. We can’t do both.”