Amazon continues its trajectory as the tech behemoth that could eventually take over the world. With that, they are going to continue overlapping with our government institutions. Heck, they perfected one of those institutions already in the delivery of the mail, improving it to a point that was well beyond what most could have ever expected. And recently, there had been a collaboration between the tech company and local police departments as well. But now, Reuters is reporting that Amazon is stopping this partnership and will no longer be offering facial recognition software to local authorities.
This move by Amazon to limit facial recognition software to police departments was an extension of a decision they had made some time ago. Back in the summer of 2020 Amazon had announced they were putting what they called a moratorium on police departments’ use of Rekognition, a facial recognition software arm of Amazon, and would be placing that timeline on a year to start. Well now, with the deadline approaching they are deciding to extend the moratorium indefinitely citing a possible over-policing by groups using it and an erosion of civil liberties.
Rekognition was originally developed by Amazon to be able to find human trafficking victims who’d been in databases in an effort to bring those people home or to “find” them. While a noble pursuit, when given to local police departments there was a feeling that it was possibly being used in areas outside of the original intention. Then, last summer, in the wake of protests after a number of different police incidents throughout the country, Amazon placed a hold on police departments using the technology. Because Rekognition is done through Amazon’s cloud computing services, they were essentially able to toggle the tech to “off” and make sure departments weren’t using it.
It’s unclear if police departments plan to institute other technology to fill the gap left by Amazon removing its facial recognition software. They definitely aren’t the only company working on this kind of software and we’ve learned that other companies are often there to fill in the void. For the short-term, though it appears this is off the table for local authorities.
This decision by Amazon to limit police departments from using their software comes amid other companies doing the same with controversial new technology. Recently, the New York City Police Department was called into question about their use of robotic dogs that were being called into different situations. BostonDynamics had supplied a number of their robots to the department, but calls over the surveillance of citizens combined with the overall cost of the robots made it a sore subject for the NYPD. They ended up halting the use of the robots.
Amazon discontinuing its use of facial recognition software within police departments is admirable, especially considering the American Civil Liberties Union had called the practice into question. But it’s unlikely to be the end of the story. With technology going this direction, it stands to reason we are seeing this more and more in the coming years with continued debate over the practice.