For the second time in a week, Amazon is trying to score PR brownie points for doing next to nothing in the wake of global anti-racist protests — this time for the weakest possible concession around some of its most dangerous software. And so intones our humble refrain: Fuck off!
Amazon has a cosy relationship with the defence apparatus and law enforcement in general. Neither are especially popular in this moment in time, with Americans reaching a tipping point in their collective apathy toward the mistreatment and extrajudicial killing of BIPOC individuals at the hands of the latter. There are thousands of people in the streets every day, calling for an end to policing as an institution.
Suddenly, Amazon’s decision to licence racially biased facial recognition software to police departments (though it won’t say which or how many) and to try to sell it to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (though neither party will confirm if it actively uses the product suite) has become a true liability.
Sensing this sea change, IBM this week put its facial recognition pursuits on ice. I’d like to imagine this was partly done out of genuine concern for the abuse potential such technology carries, but it also let IBM look like a progressive company while bowing out of a space it wasn’t exactly dominating to begin with. Google and Microsoft have scaled back their development or sale of similar products in the past.
And now, dead last of the tech giants, Amazon has announced in a four-sentence post it would limit the use of Rekognition — the incredibly dumb name they gave this product — for one (1) year.
“We’re implementing a one-year moratorium on police use of Amazon’s facial recognition technology,” the post states. “We hope this one-year moratorium might give Congress enough time to implement appropriate rules, and we stand ready to help if requested.”
Not only is Amazon and its army of lobbyists working to ensure any facial recognition legislation on the books is favourable, now it’s giving the government a deadline.
Notably, the post says nothing about a halt to Rekognition’s use in other defence spheres, or any implicit promises to halt internal development.
Keep all this in mind the next time Bezos tries to score points by dunking on a racist customer on Instagram.