Power

Amazon, facing pressure, won't provide facial recognition to police for a year

In the wake of the killing of George Floyd, the tech giant is calling on Congress to write the rules of the road.

cameras

Lawmakers have yet to unveil significant bipartisan legislation to regulate facial recognition technology.

Photo: Peter Cade/Getty Images

Amazon Web Services on Wednesday announced a one-year moratorium on providing its facial recognition software Rekognition to police departments, as tech companies face mounting pressure to cut certain ties with law enforcement in the wake of the killing of George Floyd.

"We've advocated that governments should put in place stronger regulations to govern the ethical use of facial recognition technology, and in recent days, Congress appears ready to take on this challenge," AWS wrote in a blog post. "We hope this one-year moratorium might give Congress enough time to implement appropriate rules, and we stand ready to help if requested."

The move comes amid nationwide protests over police abuses, which have prompted calls for tech giants to stop working with police in ways that might perpetuate or worsen racial injustice. The use of facial recognition technology in policing is particularly fraught, given that research has shown that a variety of leading tools, including Rekognition, have a higher error rate when trying to match black and brown faces. This week, IBM answered those calls by announcing it was exiting the facial recognition business altogether. That decision prompted demands for Amazon and other tech companies to follow suit.

But for Amazon, hitting pause on providing facial recognition technology to police is arguably a much bigger deal. Its Rekognition technology blankets the country. In an interview with PBS's "Frontline," AWS CEO Andy Jassy said Amazon didn't even know how many police departments were using the tool.

Unlike IBM, however, Amazon is not giving up on the facial recognition business completely. The company specified that the moratorium applies only to its police work. Amazon sells Rekognition to a broad spectrum of clients, from media organizations like CBS to fintech companies that use it for identity verification.

Amazon also famously pitched Rekognition to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, igniting a revolt by employees. (An ICE spokesperson previously said ICE does not have a specific contract with Amazon for facial recognition technology.)

It's unclear whether this moratorium would prevent Amazon from offering Rekognition to other government agencies. The blog post did note that the company will continue to allow groups like the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children to use the technology.

The post also sidesteps Amazon's other work with police, which includes partnerships with hundreds of police departments who have access to video footage collected by some Ring doorbells. (Disclosure: Reporter Issie Lapowsky is married to an Amazon employee).

Amazon has previously put forth a legislative framework for how it believes facial recognition should be regulated. Now, it's pushing the responsibility of ensuring facial recognition technology is used responsibly onto Congress. So far, lawmakers have made little progress on that front.

Last year, the House Oversight Committee held a series of hearings aimed at exploring the use of facial recognition. And this week, House Democrats introduced a bill that would, among other things, prevent police from applying facial recognition technology to body camera footage. Still, lawmakers have yet to unveil significant bipartisan legislation to regulate the sensitive technology.

Theranos’ investor pitches go on trial

Prosecutors in the Elizabeth Holmes fraud case are now highlighting allegations the company sought to mislead investors.

The fresh details of unproven claims made about the viability of Theranos' blood tests and efforts to conceal errors when demonstrating testing equipment added to the evidence against Holmes, who is accused of fraud in her role leading the company.

Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Theranos trial continued this week with testimony from Daniel Edlin, a former product manager at the blood-testing startup, and Shane Weber, a scientist from Pfizer. Their testimonies appeared to bolster the government's argument that Holmes intentionally defrauded investors and patients.

The fresh details about audacious and unproven claims made about the viability of Theranos' blood tests and efforts to conceal errors when demonstrating testing equipment added to the evidence against Holmes, who is accused of fraud in her role leading the company.

Keep Reading Show less
Aisha Counts

Aisha Counts (@aishacounts) is a reporting fellow at Protocol, based out of Los Angeles. Previously, she worked for Ernst & Young, where she researched and wrote about the future of work, emerging technologies and startups. She is a graduate of the University of Southern California, where she studied business and philosophy. She can be reached at acounts@protocol.com.

The way we work has fundamentally changed. COVID-19 upended business dealings and office work processes, putting into hyperdrive a move towards digital collaboration platforms that allow teams to streamline processes and communicate from anywhere. According to the International Data Corporation, the revenue for worldwide collaboration applications increased 32.9 percent from 2019 to 2020, reaching $22.6 billion; it's expected to become a $50.7 billion industry by 2025.

"While consumers and early adopter businesses had widely embraced collaborative applications prior to the pandemic, the market saw five years' worth of new users in the first six months of 2020," said Wayne Kurtzman, research director of social and collaboration at IDC. "This has cemented collaboration, at least to some extent, for every business, large and small."

Keep Reading Show less
Kate Silver

Kate Silver is an award-winning reporter and editor with 15-plus years of journalism experience. Based in Chicago, she specializes in feature and business reporting. Kate's reporting has appeared in the Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Atlantic's CityLab, Atlas Obscura, The Telegraph and many other outlets.

Protocol | Policy

8 takeaways from states’ new filing against Google

New details have been unsealed in the states' antitrust suit against Google for anticompetitive behavior in the ads market.

Google is facing complaints by government competition enforcers on several fronts.

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Up to 22%: That's the fee Google charges publishers for sales on its online ad exchanges, according to newly unredacted details in a complaint by several state attorneys general.

The figure is just one of the many details that a court allowed the states to unveil Friday. Many had more or less remained secrets inside Google and the online publishing industry, even through prior legal complaints and eager public interest.

Keep Reading Show less
Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.

Protocol | Workplace

This tech founder uses a converted Sprinter van as an office on wheels

The CEO of productivity startup Rock likes to work on the road. Here's how he does it — starting with three different WiFi hotspots.

Kenzo Fong, founder and CEO of the 20-person productivity software startup Rock, has been working out of his converted Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van since the pandemic began.

Photo: Kenzo Fong/Rock

Plenty of techies have started companies in garages. Try running a startup from a van.

In San Francisco, one software company founder has been using a converted Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van — picture an Amazon delivery vehicle — as a mobile office.

Keep Reading Show less
Allison Levitsky
Allison Levitsky is a reporter at Protocol covering workplace issues in tech. She previously covered big tech companies and the tech workforce for the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Allison grew up in the Bay Area and graduated from UC Berkeley.
Protocol | Policy

Most Americans want AI regulation — and they want it yesterday

In a poll, people said they wanted to see artificial intelligence technologies develop in the U.S. — alongside rules governing their use.

U.S. lawmakers have only just begun the long process of regulating the use of AI.

Photo: Louis Velazquez/Unsplash

Nearly two-thirds of Americans want the U.S to regulate the development and use of artificial intelligence in the next year or sooner — with half saying that regulation should have begun yesterday, according to a Morning Consult poll. Another 13% say that regulation should start in the next year.

"You can thread this together," Austin Carson, founder of new nonprofit group SeedAI and former government relations lead for Nvidia, said in an email. "Half or more Americans want to address all of these things, split pretty evenly along ideological lines."

Keep Reading Show less
Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.

ai
Latest Stories