Forbes Does a Semi Rah Rah for Amazon Rekognition

June 9, 2018

I ran through some of our findings about Amazon’s policeware capabilities. Most of the individuals who heard my lectures were surprised that an eCommerce vendor offered high value tools, products, and services directly useful for law enforcement and intelligence professionals.

Why the surprise?

I think there are a number of reasons. But based on conversations with those in my lectures, two categories of comments and questions capture the reaction to the US government documents I reviewed.

First, Europeans do not think about Amazon as anything other than a vendor of products and a service which allows relatively low cost backend services like storage.

Second, the idea that a generalist online eCommerce site and a consumerized cloud service could provide industrial strength tools to investigators, security, and intelligence professionals was a idea not previously considered.

I read what might be an early attempt by the US media to try and explain one small component in Amazon’s rather large policeware system. In “We Built A Powerful Amazon Facial Recognition Tool For Under $10,” a member of the magazine’s staff allegedly “built” a facial recognition system using Amazon’s Rekognition service.

I learned:

because Rekognition is open to all, Forbes decided to try out the service. Based on photos staff consensually provided, and with footage shot across our Jersey City and London offices, we discovered it took just a few hours, some loose change and a little technical knowledge to establish a super-accurate facial recognition operation.

Based on my experience with professionals who work in the field of “real” news and journalism, the Amazon system must be easy to use. Like lawyers, many journalists are more comfortable with words that technology. There are, of course, exceptions such as the Forbes’ journalist.

In order to present a balanced viewpoint, Forbes included a cautionary chunk of information from a third party; to wit:

“This [Rekognitioin] underscores how easily a government can deploy Amazon’s face recognition to conduct mass surveillance,” ACLU technology and civil liberties attorney Matt Cagle said of Forbes’ project. “Now it’s up to Amazon. Will it stop selling dangerous technology to the government? Or will it continue compromising customer privacy and endangering communities of color, protesters and immigrants, who are already under attack in the current political climate?”

What did Amazon contribute to the write up? It appears Amazon was okay with keeping its lips zipped.

I think it may take some time for the person familiar with Amazon as a source of baby diapers to embrace Amazon as a slightly more robust provider of certain interesting technology.

Our research has revealed that Amazon has other policeware services and features sitting on a shelf in a warehouse stuffed with dog food, cosmetics, and clothing. We offer a for fee briefing about Amazon’s policeware. Write benkent2020 at yahoo dot com for details.

Stephen E Arnold, June 11, 2018

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