- Two shareholder proposals about Amazon’s controversial facial recognition technology were voted down at the company’s shareholder meeting on Wednesday.
- One proposal would have prevented the Seattle tech giant from selling the software to government agencies.
- The decision comes after civil rights advocates vocally opposed their opposition to government use of the technology.
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The first proposal would have prevented the Seattle tech giant from selling the software – called Rekognition – to the government, while the other would have required an independent human rights group to study the technology.
The decision marks a contentious turning point in a saga that put Amazon at odds with activist shareholders and civil rights groups, which have vocally opposed government use of facial recognition due to privacy concerns.
But with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos controlling a significant, though not a majority, stake in the company he founded and many large institutional shareholders holding similar voting rights as Bezos, it was a long shot that the proposals would pass.
Rekognition, which Amazon launched in 2016, can identify people and objects in both videos and photos and has been used by government groups as well as media organisations. Amazon said the software has been used to rescue victims of human trafficking, for example, and Sky News used it to identify celebrities attending the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle last year.
But the technology has been heavily criticised by civil rights groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, which has raised concerns over Rekognition’s accuracy and its potential to be used for surveillance. Last July, the organisation found that the facial recognition software incorrectly identified 28 members of Congress with images of people who had been arrested. Prior to Wednesday’s meeting, the ACLU published an open letter urging shareholders to back both proposals.
Amazon has said in a previous statement to Business Insider that it has been working with working with academics, researchers, customers, and lawmakers to balance the “benefits of facial recognition technology with the potential risks.”
The decision comes after Amazon unsuccessfully requested that the SEC block the proposals in January. The company is expected to share a filing with the final vote tally later this week.
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