One day later, on Tuesday, an Amazon employee explained exactly why those decisions might be unpopular. In a public letter posted to Medium, an anonymous worker at the company outlined concerns about Amazon’s facial recognition tool, Rekognition. The product has been under fire since May, when the ACLU revealed that the company was offering it to police departments, raising serious civil liberties concerns.
Amazon Rekognition makes it easy to add image and video analysis to your applications. You just provide an image or video to the Rekognition API, and the service can identify the objects, people, text, scenes, and activities, as well as detect any inappropriate content. Amazon Rekognition also provides highly accurate facial analysis and facial recognition on images and video that you provide. You can detect, analyze, and compare faces for a wide variety of user verification, people counting, and public safety use cases.
“We know Bezos is aware of these concerns and the industry-wide conversation happening right now,” the employee wrote. ”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.’”It’s the second anonymous callout post from a tech employee in less than a week. On Friday, a Microsoft worker separately raised concerns on Medium about the company’s interest in a $10 billion contract to provide cloud services to the US Department of Defense. “Many Microsoft employees don’t believe that what we build should be used for waging war,” the employee wrote.
That doesn’t mean you throw ethics out the window, the cost of scientific progress should and historically always has been weighed against ethics. And as society progresses and better understands the social costs of such research in terms of civil rights, it should draw a stronger line on what is ethical and what isn’t.
In today’s world if you don’t draw a line on basic civil liberty violations that are surely to come from these kind of surveillance programs, then the benefits of this technology don’t outweigh the harm. Not to mention, tech companies are sitting on piles of offshore cash that they would rather keep offshore to avoid paying taxes, and instead want the government to subsidize and incentivize research and development on spytech? Give me a break lol.
The choice of Medium is itself noteworthy: a platform that has in the past been a place for users’ first-person missives, and one built with a tech company ethos. Siobhan O’Connor, vice president of editorial at Medium, says the posts were brought to them by a person they knew, and then their authors were verified to be employees. Both posts were behind Medium’s gated paywall, limiting reach somewhat, although O’Connor says they’ve received a wide readership. She says she recognized the letters as “particularly interesting to the readers of a platform like Medium.”