In 2017 Amazon introduced Rekognition, its “deep learning-based image and video analysis” platform. Privacy advocates and other advocacy groups argue that Amazon Rekognition is a threat to people’s civil rights and liberties. Facial recognition is not a neutral technology. There are many applications for for facial recognition, but unfortunately many of them infringe on people’s civil liberties.
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.
Facial Recognition Could Power Surveillance States
According to Forbes, Amazon said “it won’t allow anyone to break the law with Rekognition and it’ll respect citizens’ privacy rights.” But if the product is intended for widespread use, how will Amazon control how its customers use the platform?
Local governments are considering using the technology, while groups like the ACLU are demanding that they do not use facial recognition. The ACLU argues that the system is “primed to amplify bias and inequality in the criminal justice system.” One of the biggest fears is that it discourages people from assembling in public for events like protests, if the government could identify and possibly flag them for attending.
If law enforcement agencies use the technology, it could contribute to disproportionate targeting or surveillance of people of color, immigrants, and civil society organizations. Even if you find the possible effects in the United States questionable, other authoritarian governments could use Rekognition to intimidate and monitor political opponents.
Is Rekognition Worth the Privacy Risks?
Facial recognition and other applications for machine learning have many positive applications, but the question is whether or not those benefits outweigh the privacy issues. Amazon entering this market brings image and video analysis to the masses in an affordable and fully scalable package.
Amazon Rekognition will let smaller companies introduce facial recognition technology to improve their products and make many processes more efficient. With more groups using the technology, it will collect more data and get continuously smarter. However, the smarter the recognition technology gets, the more intrusive its use will become. Amazon says that Rekognition can already account for poor lighting and odd angles for its facial identification. As it improves, it may be nearly impossible to avoid detection by the organizations using the technology.
Conclusion: Facial Recognition Will Be Used, But How Can we Protect Our Privacy?
If Amazon is launching the service, people and companies are going to use it. Fighting back and calling for privacy is important, but it won’t stop the technology’s fast and widespread growth. Privacy advocacy groups are not against technological advancements, but it is in their interest to protect people’s personal and private information. Facial recognition can be used, but we need to make sure that the information it collects and gathered is stored in a secure and encrypted form, and that people or businesses cannot use facial recognition in ways that are not beneficial to consumers.