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caption: The Amazon Spheres are reflected in the Amazon Doppler building on Monday, January 29, 2018, during the spheres grand opening in Seattle.
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The Amazon Spheres are reflected in the Amazon Doppler building on Monday, January 29, 2018, during the spheres grand opening in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Amazon: Government should hurry up and regulate facial recognition

The head of Amazon Web Services says he wants the federal government to regulate facial recognition technology.

Andy Jassy made the comment this week as the company faces pressure to rein in the use of the technology. Activists and some of Amazon's own employees have been asking the company not to sell facial recognition technology to agencies that could use it to target people by making automated decisions about them that affect their lives.

Jassy is the latest top Amazon executive to say the company is proceeding. But in an interview at the Code Conference in Scottsdale AZ this week, he specified: "Any government department that is following the law, we will serve."

So there needs to be law, and in that law Jassy says the federal government must be clear about appropriate uses. He said Amazon advises that information provided by its Rekognition technology be used as one piece of evidence, not as the automatic decider of an individual's fate. "And having real ramifications if you misuse it, and I wish they would hurry up," Jassy said.

A federal law would mean Amazon, federal departments and state and local agencies must comply. Jassy says Amazon is prepared to remove agencies that misuse Rekognition from the company's entire cloud service. He added that there have been no complaints about police agencies misusing the service thus far.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos shares his thoughts with regularity. Jassy is rarely interviewed. Here are some more things we learned from his interview with journalist Kara Swisher:

Senior leaders at Amazon are concerned about issues of race. Yet at work it’s full steam ahead on Rekognition.

“I understand why people are concerned about it, and we're concerned about it too. And if you knew what a lot of the senior leaders in Amazon spend their time on when they're not at work - they spend their time on issues of racial equality. And people are very passionate. I spent a lot of my time on that too, so I care a lot about it, but I really strongly believe that just because technology could be misused doesn't mean that we should ban it and condemn it.”

If forced to break itself up because of federal antitrust action – it will comply.

Jassy says Amazon is unlikely to proactively separate Amazon from Amazon Web services to stave off antitrust action. But if forced:

“I can't speak to what the government's thinking or will do, but at the end of the day when we operate in the United States we follow United States laws. So if we were forced to do it, I guess we would have to do it.”