News & Politics

Amazon Partners with Law Enforcement to Deploy AI Facial Recognition Surveillance Technology

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Jeff Bezos has changed modern life so completely that it’s increasingly difficult to recall what things were like before Amazon.com. There was actually a time when you couldn’t order a case of toilet paper at 3 in the morning and have it delivered right to your door before you really, really need it.* Amazon can sell you the food you eat for dinner, the instantly streaming movie you watch afterward (which Amazon may or may not have produced), and the heartburn medicine and sleeping pills you need because you made bad choices about the stuff you ate and watched. A company that was founded less than 25 years ago, a guy with a dream who started selling books out of his suburban garage, is now a seemingly unstoppable behemoth that has infiltrated every aspect of our everyday lives. We are now, for all practical purposes, the United States of Amazon.

And now, when Amazon is done hauling stuff to your house, it might even haul your ass to jail. Matt Cagle and Nicole Ozer, ACLU:

The company has developed a powerful and dangerous new facial recognition system and is actively helping governments deploy it. Amazon calls the service “Rekognition…”

Powered by artificial intelligence, Rekognition can identify, track, and analyze people in real time and recognize up to 100 people in a single image. It can quickly scan information it collects against databases featuring tens of millions of faces, according to Amazon.

Amazon is marketing Rekognition for government surveillance. According to its marketing materials, it views deployment by law enforcement agencies as a “common use case” for this technology.

Yikes. I’m pretty sure this is how Skynet got started.

Here, try this one: “Alexa, what happens to snitches?”

I love Amazon, and I don’t regret a penny I’ve given them. (Well, except for the gas mask and Hello Kitty backpack in ’07. But that was my own bad decision, and I don’t blame the TSA for profiling me.) I understand that I’m giving Bezos a whole lot of personal information in exchange for the amazing array of services he provides me, and I’m okay with that. Mostly. But this? This creeps me out.

Amazon already knows all the books you read, the movies you like, the personal hygiene products you use, and lots more stuff about you. That’s not enough? Now they need to know what you look like and everywhere you go?

Now I’ve got a mental image of Bezos as Dr. Evil in an underground lair, watching me from his huge monitor screens with his trembling finger poised over a big red button. Will he push it? Will I be taken away in the dead of night for returning too many items? Will my trip to the gulag have free shipping?

Maybe Amazon should go into the incarceration business next. They already take over every aspect of every industry they delve into, whether it’s retail or publishing or movies or whatever else. Why not jails? They’ve got warehouses all over the place as it is. Now they can use that same logistical wizardry to build new warehouses… for people! And with Prime membership, you can get an extra hour of yard time and real-time guard tracking.

And to fill those jails, why not create their own private police force? It worked for Omni Consumer Products. We all remember how they cleaned up Detroit. Now Amazon can do the same for the whole country. “Your move, valued customer!”

At what point does convenience become too expensive? Is it worth having your every whim catered to, 24 hours a day, if it also means losing your last few tattered scraps of privacy?

Yeah, probably. After all, this is America.

(Hat tip: Dan King)

*Hypothetically! This has never happened to me, as far as you know.