Amazon: A Variant of the Google Push Back Problem

June 19, 2018

Google sells online ads and tries hard to generate significant, sustainable revenue not dependent on its “pay to play” model. The Google has faced employee pushback from employees related to its work for the US government. Although the focus has been Project Maven, some employees are not supportive of the company’s interest in expanding its work for US government agencies.

The Google problem has now morphed and allegedly surfaced among Amazon shareholders. The objection is that Amazon is working hard to expand its revenue by providing services to government agencies. The focus is upon Rekognition, the company’s facial recognition system.

The source which alerted me to this “problem” is CNNMoney. I assume that some of the information in the write up is accurate, but in today’s digital media sphere, one never knows. Nevertheless, let me highlight a couple of the points in “Amazon Shareholders Call for Halt of Facial Recognition Sales to Police.”

I know from the feedback from the audience at my lectures in Prague is that Amazon is not recognized as a vendor of policeware. (“Policeware” is the term I use to describe technology packaged for use by law enforcement and intelligence professionals.) In fact, when I mentioned “policeware” in conjunction with Amazon’s Rekognition service, there was confusion on the faces of my audience.

In short, Amazon may be selling facial recognition technology in the US, but among the professionals in Prague, Amazon sells T shirts and electronic gizmos.

The CNN Tech / CNNMoney write up states:

In a letter delivered to CEO Jeff Bezos late Friday, the shareholders, many of whom are advocates of socially responsible investing, say they’re concerned about the privacy threat of government surveillance from the tool.

Amazon rolled out Rekognition in 2016. Now two years later, the push back is sufficiently “large” to catch the attention of the “real” journalists at CNN.

The write up points out:

The shareholders, which include the Social Equity Group and Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investment, are joining groups such as the ACLU in efforts to stop the company from selling the service — pointing out the risks of mass surveillance.

Amazon’s technology, it seems based on the information in the write up, is suitable for mass surveillance.

I highlighted this statement attributed to University of District Columbia law professor Andrew Guthrie Ferguson, author of “The Rise of Big Data Policing”:

The implications of Amazon Rekognition and all new facial recognition technologies is nothing less than a rebalancing of power between citizens and the police. The ability to identify, track, and monitor everyone throughout the city is something that we read about in science fiction.


Perhaps the “real” journalists at CNN will explore this topic in the future articles.

I have some questions which the experts working with CNN may be able to answer:

  • If the Rekognition product became available in 2016, how many years of development did Amazon require before having a commercial service?
  • What other innovations related to Rekognition did Amazon fund and develop?
  • How does Rekognition’s capabilities relate to the video functions of some Amazon in home devices?
  • Who spearheads Amazon’s policeware activities?

Perhaps CNN will provide additional information? If not, there may be some experts who can tackle these questions. Amazon may have to direct its attention to curing its variant of the Google disease for push back and discontent.

Stephen E Arnold, June 19, 2018


2 Responses to “Amazon: A Variant of the Google Push Back Problem”

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