A still shot from Joy Buolamwini’s video poem “AI, Ain’t I A Woman?” showcasing some of the egregious errors made by Rekognition. (Source: Algorithmic Justice League)

Civil Rights Groups Win 2-Year Fight against Racist Facial Recognition

placIn the summer of 2018, nearly 70 civil rights and research organizations wrote a letter to Jeff Bezos demanding that Amazon stop providing facial recognition technology to governments. As part of an increased focus on the role that tech companies were playing in enabling the U.S. government’s tracking and deportation of immigrants, it called on Amazon to “stand up for civil rights and civil liberties.”

“As advertised,” it said, “Rekognition is a powerful surveillance system readily available to violate rights and target communities of color.” Along with the letter, the ACLU Foundation of Washington delivered over 150,000 petition signatures as well as another letter from the company’s own shareholders expressing similar demands. A few days later, Amazon’s employees echoed the concerns in an internal memo.

Karen Ho described the struggle in a story on technologyreview.com outlining the battle over facial recognition tech and threats to personal freedoms as faces were being used to train such software

According to recent reports, wearing masks due to the COVID-19 virus, is making it harder for facial recognition software to function. Despite the mounting pressure, Amazon continued with business as usual. It pushed Rekognition as a tool for monitoring “people of interest” and doubled down on providing other surveillance technologies to governments. The company’s subsidiary Ring, for example, acquired only a few months earlier, rapidly struck up partnerships with more than 1,300 law enforcement agencies to use footage from its home security cameras in criminal investigations.

As we at Seeflection.com have mentioned in past stories, the facial recognition trend is being outlawed in some cities, but welcomed in others. As shown in the photo above, facial recognition is still far from perfect.  And as most programmers will admit there are serious questions regarding racism built into the algorithms being used.

Amazon Adjusts Policy

On Wednesday, June 10, Amazon shocked civil rights activists and researchers when it announced that it would place a one-year moratorium on police use of Rekognition. The move followed IBM’s decision to discontinue its general-purpose face recognition system. The next day, Microsoft announced that it would stop selling its system to police departments until federal law regulates the technology. Baby steps perhaps, but no doubt a step forward.

“It’s incredible that Amazon’s actually responding within this current conversation around racism,” said Deborah Raji, an AI accountability researcher who coauthored a foundational study on the racial biases and inaccuracies built into the company’s technology. “It just speaks to the power of this current moment.”

There is a great deal amount of information in Hao’s article.  Especially concerning a groundbreaking study called Gender Shades, which showed that facial recognition technology not only mistakes women for men, but also misidentifies people of color more frequently than those with light skin tones.

read more at technologyreview.com