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Amazon - selling our faces and our identity!

May 29, 2018 4:35 PM

When it comes to innovative technologies, Amazon is amazingly good. In many sectors, it has established itself as a pioneer and is constantly innovating and coming up with disruptive ideas challenging many of its baffled competitors. Today Amazon is one of the leading electronic commerce and cloud computing companies in the world and is growing at a phenomenal rate while diversifying its operations at an equally faster pace. In the last reported year, the multinational e-commerce company's net revenue was almost 178 billion U.S. dollars, up from 135.99 billion US dollars in 2016.

All these well-established tech giants have one thing in common though - be it Facebook, Google or Amazon each of them is getting caught in Privacy related controversies relating to ethical safeguards, especially when it comes to allowing third parties to harness data which their respective customers/users entrust them with on good faith.

Recently,  the American Civil Liberties Union disclosed that Amazon is selling facial recognition technology to law enforcement agency which intends to employ it to identify persons of interest in a backdrop comprising of a collection of millions of faces in real-time. Rekognition, the facial recognition technology has been developed by Amazon Web Services unit that contributed $17 billion to Amazon ’s net revenue in 2017.

According to Amazon’s Blog Post:

"Face Search and Detection: With Amazon Rekognition, you can now perform real-time face searches against collections with tens of millions of faces. This represents a 5-10X reduction in search latency, while simultaneously allowing for collections that can store 10-20X more faces than before.

Insecurity and safety applications, you can now identify people of interest against a collection of millions of faces in near real-time, enabling use cases such as timely and accurate crime prevention. The Washington County Sheriff’s Office is the primary first responder for 911 calls from the citizens of Oregon. The office also provides support for crime prevention to other city police departments countywide. The Sheriff’s Office had previously used Amazon Rekognition to reduce the identification time of suspects from 2-3 days down to minutes.

“These improvements allow deputies in the field to receive the response to searches in near real time. This allows them to get the information they need and take action quickly. Seconds saved in the field can make the difference in saving a life.” Chris Adzima, Senior Information Systems Analyst for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office."

But ACLU - American Civil Liberties Union – has always maintained and tried to stress on one primary concern “the technology is prone to abuse in the hands of governments and poses a severe threat to communities, including people of color and immigrants, and to the trust and respect Amazon has worked to build”.

As of now, Amazon is commercializing many superior technologies and this latest controversy could resurface privacy concerns about other advanced technologies from Amazon that the company is working hard to commercialize. "Amazon Go" is one of the high-tech convenience stores operated and owned by Amazon. It employs thousands of cameras to help recognize, categorize and store which products customers pull off of shelves so they can be charged automatically upon exit. Amazon has maintained and always reiterated that it does not use facial recognition technology at Amazon Go stores. In addition to this, Amazon’s  Alexa-powered echo devices are also being investigated by security researchers who believe that these Alexa-powered echo devises are always listening and storing data in the form of background conversations while the device is playing songs or user requests. Now, this is scary indeed and raises many questions about big giants getting bigger and giving a damn to ethics and privacy-related guidelines.

So in the name of commercialization should these tech companies be given any and every liberty, or should there be guidelines to put restrictions on them in order to protect the interests of their users/consumers/customers? I guess, now is the time that we as a community address this growing concern. Given the unstoppable pace of superlative advancements in technology,  it will only get worse if left in its “touch me not” kind of state. And definitely, Amazon will not pay the price, we the general users of technology who pay a hefty price for availing these technology-driven services will eventually become victims of its growing grasp on our private lives and maybe someday even control our thought processes.

At HireHere we only promote ethical use of technology with no hidden agenda, and believe in the wise words of Evgeny Morozov “I want my government to do something about my privacy – I don’t want to just do it on my own.”

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