An anonymous source, claiming to be an Amazon employee, has published an article on the blogging platform Medium revealing the details of internal division within the tech giant over its software called "Rekognition" designed to identify people on CCTV feeds and videos. Medium claims it has verified the author's identity.
The article claims that a group of over 450 employees presented an open letter to Amazon's CEO Jeff Bezos demanding him to stop selling the facial recognition software to law enforcement, citing the possibility that it may be misused. The letter also contained calls to kick the company Palantir off Amazon Web Services, due to the former helping US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) track and deport illegal immigrants. Earlier in June, Business Insider reported about a letter signed by over 100 employees being delivered to Bezos.
Despite allegedly receiving the letter containing employees concerns, Bezos stood up to defend Amazon's actions during the Wired25 summit and suggested to wait for society to develop an "immune response." The author of the Medium article downplays Bezos' defense by saying that it could be too late to react then.
"If Amazon waits, we think the harm will be difficult to undo," the author wrote.
The author of the article further explains the harsh position towards the company's policy by saying that constantly monitoring someone violates their rights. He also noted that it sets a dangerous precedent and recalled Amazon's idea of using the technology in police officers' body cameras instead of just CCTVs.
"We all have the right to go about our lives without being constantly monitored by the government. Companies like ours should not be in the business of facilitating authoritarian surveillance," he wrote.
Social media reaction has been mixed about the news of internal opposition within Amazon with regard to "Rekognition" software being sold to law enforcement. Many of them noted that it's no good Amazon has it, but they are ok with police using it.
Well TBH I’d rather the police had it than amazon— Peter Brown (@peterbrownbarra) October 16, 2018
Amazon can sell to whom it likes, the Police would have access way before Amazon.— Bill Rollinson (@Rollo54) October 17, 2018
I don't agree with this tech being available to general public, as we'll have thousands of SS, Stasi types, spying on everyone!
Some noted that there is nothing wrong with the technology since it can help track criminals.
@katiedrumm what's wrong if it is meant to save people from rogue elements.— Alok tiwari (@deep_aloktiwari) October 17, 2018
Others noted that if Amazon employees disagree with their employer they have the right to leave the company.
If you don't agree with the values of your employer then you should seek other employment. You're not the CEO; you do not assume ALL the risk for the company. The CEO does. Time you figured that out. #GrowUp #FindAnotherJob 🙄— Wisewoman (@WiseWoman2065) October 18, 2018
Many Twitterians were not so happy about Amazon selling surveillance technology to police.
Some suggested to start wearing sunglasses and masks…
Time to start wearing sunglasses and hospital masks everywhere— Rick (@Rothbardian1627) October 16, 2018
While others offered more "fashionable" solutions.
Hospital masks are downright ugly and decidedly, unforgivably unfashionable.— David S (@hyoondae) October 17, 2018
Instead, use Korea-style face masks. They are as inexpensive as $3.50 and some last a long, long time. Great to protect self from I'll people and some 2nd-hand cigarette smoke. But, some USA businesses
This is not the first time employees from big tech firms have opposed companies' decisions to sign up for controversial government contracts. Google employees opposed a decision to bid for a Maven contract to create AI for military drones. In June 2018 the tech giant announced it had dropped the project and promised to avoid developing AI for the military in the future.
Several days ago similar a situation happened at Microsoft, where employees also submitted an open letter urging the tech firm's leadership not to bid on a $10-billion tender for a Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract with the US Department of Defense. Under the contract a tech firm must build a separate cloud service for the department.