Shareholders are trying to pressure Jeff Bezos into cutting off Amazon's deals to sell facial recognition to police departments

Drew Angerer/Getty ImagesAmazon CEO Jeff Bezos
  • Civil rights groups and a shareholders are putting pressure on Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to stop selling the Amazon Rekognition facial recognition software to law enforcement agencies.
  • The groups raise privacy concerns, along with worries about how the software can be used to unfairly target vulnerable communities.
  • Amazon has defended its practice of selling to law enforcement, saying that the software has already helped find victims of abduction.

Amazon and its CEO Jeff Bezos are facing mounting pressure from shareholders and activist groups to end its practice of selling facial recognition software to law enforcement.

On Friday, 20 shareholder groups sent a letter directly to Bezos raising concerns about Rekognition, Amazon’s facial recognition software, which was first introduced in 2016.

“The undersigned Amazon (AMZN) shareholders are concerned such government surveillance infrastructure technology may not only pose a privacy threat to customers and other stakeholders across the country but may also raise substantial risks for our Company, negatively impacting our company’s stock valuation and increasing financial risk for shareholders,” the shareholder letter reads.

The letter comes as more than 70 civil rights organisations led by the ACLU are also delivering a petition to Bezos on Monday demanding the e-commerce giant get out of the surveillance business,BuzzFeed News first reported.

Rekognition is used by law enforcement agencies including the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and the Orlando Police Department, according to documents released by the ACLU last month. Rekognition is also used by a number of non-law enforcement customers, including Pinterest and C-SPAN. It was also used by Sky News to identify guests at the royal wedding, and Amazon says it is used by amusement parks to find lost children.

In defence of Rekognition’s use by law enforcement, Amazon has said that it will suspend use for any customer who violates the law. The software has already been deployed to find abducted people, the company told Gizmodo last month.

“Our quality of life would be much worse today if we outlawed new technology because some people could choose to abuse the technology,” Amazon told Gizmodo at the time.

But per their requests to Amazon, some shareholders and the ACLU are concerned that in the hands of law enforcement agencies, the software – which boasts the ability to identify people in real time – could violate the civil rights of women, people of colour, immigrants, and other marginalized groups they say are already disproportionately targeted by police departments.

“Facial recognition is not a neutral technology, no matter how Amazon spins this,” the ACLU petition reads. “It automates mass surveillance, threatens people’s freedom to live their private lives outside the government’s gaze, and is primed to amplify bias and inequality in the criminal justice system.”

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Business Insider.

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