The Orlando Police Department has dropped its pilot of Amazon’s facial recognition program, Rekognition, amid public outcry. The software has been widely criticised since its launch two years ago, but it could be reinstated in the future.
Back in January, the retail giant used the technology to open Amazon Go, a fully automated grocery store based in Seattle. Amazon proceeded to pitch the software to law enforcement agencies, claiming that the program could aid criminal investigations by identifying suspects in photos and videos.
The software is a powerful police tool that can track and analyse people using a database of millions of faces. Despite its potential, the technology has the capacity to be exploited by governments seeking to introduce mass surveillance.
Protestors insisted that Amazon’s software has the capacity to be abused by law enforcement agencies, and a letter sent to Orlando’s mayor echoed this statement. The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida warned that the technology would “enable the mass location tracking of residents without criminal suspicion.”
Orlando has since scrapped the technology for its inherent ethical flaw. “Partnering with innovative companies to test new technology – while also ensuring we uphold privacy laws and in no way violate the rights of others – is critical to us as we work to further keep our community safe,” the city and the Orlando Police Department argued in a joint statement.
Microsoft is reported to be experimenting with a similar technology, according to Reuters. Following the controversy surrounding Amazon, however, it is unclear as to whether facial recognition in retail will be added to the long list of rivalries between the two tech giants.
Nevertheless, Orlando decided against cutting off all ties from the pilot program. The joint statement added that “the City of Orlando is always looking for new solutions to further our ability to keep our residents and visitors safe.”