According to reports from Reuters, Amazon shareholders on Wednesday rejected the proposal on ban of selling its facial recognition tech to governments. The shareholders also rejected other proposals like climate change policy, salary transparency, and other equity issues. Amazon’s annual proxy statement included 11 resolutions, and it has been reported that all 11 resolutions were rejected by shareholders.
This year in January, activist shareholders proposed a resolution to limit the sale of Amazon’s facial recognition tech called Rekognition to law enforcement and government agencies. The technology was found to be biased and inaccurate and is regarded as an enabler of racial discrimination of minorities. Rekognition, which runs image and video analysis of faces, has been sold to two states so far, and Amazon has also pitched it to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The first proposal asked the Board of Directors to stop sales of “Rekognition” — Amazon’s face surveillance technology — to the government. The second demands an independent review of its human and civil rights impacts, particularly for people of color, immigrants, and activists, who have always been disproportionately impacted by surveillance.
The resolutions failed despite an effort by the ACLU and other civil rights groups to back the measures. The civil liberties group on Tuesday wrote an open letter to the tech giant of being “non-responsive” to privacy concerns.
"A unified chorus of civil rights orgs AI experts, customers, employees, academics, and members of Congress has warned about the dangers of government face surveillance.
Against these voices stands Amazon." https://t.co/jTkrXx0wl0
— Matt Cagle (@Matt_Cagle) May 20, 2019
Shankar Narayan, from ACLU Washington, made strong remarks on the vote, “The fact that there needed to be a vote on this is an embarrassment for Amazon’s leadership team. It demonstrates shareholders do not have confidence that company executives are properly understanding or addressing the civil and human rights impacts of its role in facilitating pervasive government surveillance.”
“While we have yet to see the exact breakdown of the vote, this shareholder intervention should serve as a wake-up call for the company to reckon with the real harms of face surveillance and to change course,” he said.
The ACLU in its letter said investors and shareholders hold the power to protect Amazon from its own failed judgment.
Amazon pushed back the claims that the technology is inaccurate, and called on the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to block the shareholder proposal prior to its annual shareholder meeting. But ACLU blocked Amazon’s efforts to stop the vote, amid growing scrutiny of its product.
According to an Amazon spokeswoman, the resolutions failed by a wide margin. Amazon has defended its work and said all users must follow the law. It also added a web portal for people to report any abuse of the service here.
The votes were non-binding, allowing the company to reject the outcome of the vote. But it was inevitable that the votes were set to fail, as Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos holds 16% of its stock and voting rights. The company’s other four institutional shareholders, including The Vanguard Group, Blackrock, FMR and State Street, collectively hold about the same amount of voting rights as Bezos.
The members of the Congress also met at the House Committee hearing on Wednesday, to discuss the civil rights impact of all facial recognition technology. Responding to the shareholder vote, Democratic U.S. Representative Jimmy Gomez said, “that just means that it’s more important that Congress acts.”