AWS: Amazon Web Surveillance
May 22, 2018 11:04 AM   Subscribe

The ACLU has obtained new documents detailing law enforcement usage of Amazon's facial detection software known as Rekognition. The Bezos-owned Washington Post reports that the sheriff’s office of Washington County, Ore. pays Amazon between $6 and $12 a month to scan footage of potential suspects against a database of 300k mugshots, and the service has even been used to identify guests at a recent royal wedding.

Vice: Amazon Is Selling Cheap, Real-Time Facial Recognition Technology to Cops
“Amazon’s marketing materials read like a user manual for authoritarian surveillance,” Matt Cagle, a technology and civil liberties attorney at the ACLU of Northern California, told me on a phone call. “Amazon has recommended Rekognition for officer body cameras, which would transform them from a tool for officer accountability into surveillance machines pointed at the public.”
NYT: Amazon Pushes Facial Recognition to Police. Critics See Surveillance Risk.
The United States military and intelligence agencies have used facial recognition tools for years in overseas conflicts to identify possible terrorist suspects. But domestic law enforcement agencies are increasingly using the technology at home for more routine forms of policing.

The people who can be identified through facial recognition systems are not just those with criminal records. More than 130 million American adults are in facial recognition databases that can be searched in criminal investigations, the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law estimates.
The Verge: Amazon is selling police departments a real-time facial recognition system
In a comment to The Verge, Amazon emphasized that the company suspends any accounts found to be violating the law or otherwise using its services irresponsibly. “As a technology, Amazon Rekognition has many useful applications in the real world,” an Amazon representative said in a statement. “Our quality of life would be much worse today if we outlawed new technology because some people could choose to abuse the technology.”
posted by Existential Dread (37 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
I have not RTFL above, but my gut instinct tells me that a) this ain't good and b) Google isn't the only company taking "Don't Be Evil" out of their code of conduct, even if it wasn't there to begin with. The sheer amount of asshattery that one has to keep up with these days is exhausting, and I am an old man.
Okay, now I'll head back upstairs and start with the reading and the weeping.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 11:10 AM on May 22, 2018 [5 favorites]




We really need to redefine "monopoly" to encompass whatever Amazon has become.
posted by grumpybear69 at 11:19 AM on May 22, 2018 [4 favorites]


eponydreadful
posted by gwint at 11:19 AM on May 22, 2018 [6 favorites]


I guess Jeff Bezos didn't become the worlds richest man by paying other people too much money to come up with clever names for his products . . .
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 11:30 AM on May 22, 2018 [2 favorites]


The Washington Post article points out that Microsoft has a competing service, that touts Uber as a customer. The Microsoft service also supports an emotion recognition functionality.

Google has a similar API. IBM and at least 7 others do as well, according to this helpful list.

So, the good news is that Amazon doesn't have even close to a monopoly on this technology! The bad news is that there are dystopic APIs. I'll leave it as an exercise of the thread to find other dystopic APIs.
posted by el io at 11:32 AM on May 22, 2018 [5 favorites]


Huxley should have titled his novel: Cowardly New World.
posted by nikoniko at 11:35 AM on May 22, 2018 [6 favorites]




We really need to redefine "monopoly" to encompass whatever Amazon has become.
Amazon Prime Evil.

Most Evil ships between 1-2 business days!
posted by Fizz at 11:42 AM on May 22, 2018 [4 favorites]


So, I'm thinking of a baseball cap with high energy infrared LEDs along the rim. Or glasses with outward facing LED's. Would they be enough to blind cameras or confuse algorithms?
posted by DesbaratsDays at 11:53 AM on May 22, 2018


Could they combine this with their warehouse in the sky idea?

We'd actually have an all seeing, all knowing bearer of gifts/judgement in the sky.

How many books is this like? How are they doing in the lazer weaponry department?
posted by Dillionaire at 12:07 PM on May 22, 2018


REGULATE, IT'S NOT TOO LATE ✊🏻
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 12:07 PM on May 22, 2018 [13 favorites]


Ban facial recognition technology immediately. It's too dangerous. The abusive use cases are the easiest and most profitable ones.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:20 PM on May 22, 2018 [10 favorites]


I don’t have a problem with this, as long as they just stay with the traditional Identigraph technology.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 12:26 PM on May 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


DesbaratsDays, relevant Wired article including CV Dazzle makeup; and Quora thread with anecdata
posted by a halcyon day at 12:45 PM on May 22, 2018


It's a tossup between which is more worrying: the automatic facial recognition systems or the fake cell towers they can drive around with to ID phones.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 12:58 PM on May 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


Pope Guilty: what other software would you like to ban? What should be the penalty for open source software writers that implement such technologies? Should we not be allowed to automatically tag our photos with our family members anymore, or should that be a legally mandated manual process? Obviously with this ban (as with thermonuclear weapons), governments will be exempt from such bans, not much you can do about that.

This is concerning, don't get me wrong. But in my mind, license plate identification software is more concerning, as it's already deployed in a widespread manner and much less prone to error. It has a similar impact that we imagine this will eventually have (tracking the movement of the populaces).

CV dazzle makeup is a cute idea, and a great thought experiment, but it certainly makes it super-evident who is trying to hide their identity (see LED baseball caps) and creates a ton of daily work for the wearer. And probably isn't a long-term solution for increasingly sophisticated algorithms that will eventually work past the dazzle.

I don't want to throw up my hands and capitulate to the increasing surveillance state, but ideas like 'ban it' seem simplistic and unrealistic. While I agree with the sentiment of 'regulate it', there is still a bunch of hard thorny work as to how to regulate it appropriately. And regulation of the technology in a relatively free country like the US won't help dissidents in Russia, Saudi Arabia, Israel, China, etc.

As far as the sentiment 'we should regulate it to curtail police abuses of the power', well, yes we should. But keep in mind that every policeman already has a version of this in their brain where they can instantly spot a PoC and single them out to do awful things to them. We haven't begun to solve that problem yet, and it's not a technology problem. Until we address that problem, this problem seems a bit academic.
posted by el io at 12:59 PM on May 22, 2018 [7 favorites]


Thanks a_h_d. Looks like it works fine in theory, anyway! I like these too. I'm too old to be wearing radical high-contrast makeup.
posted by DesbaratsDays at 12:59 PM on May 22, 2018


It's a tossup between which is more worrying: the automatic facial recognition systems or the fake cell towers they can drive around with to ID phones.

And then you combine that with the License Plate Recognition scanners from that article last week, and . . . yeah.
posted by aspersioncast at 1:01 PM on May 22, 2018


How long before they deploy this "For Your Safety" feature in Whole Foods?
posted by tenderly at 1:36 PM on May 22, 2018


Ugh why can’t they focus on selling me stuff for cheap and make new kindles?

I don’t even know who owns more of my soul anymore, Amazon, google, or Facebook.

I’m starting to realize the thing I like most about dystopian novels is the part where the protagonist and their scrappy band are overthrowing everything. Or at least seriously subverting it.
posted by sio42 at 1:37 PM on May 22, 2018 [3 favorites]


I wonder if it is against the data protection act to sell video from public CCTV cameras to the likes of Amazon to use for promotional purposes.
posted by Burn_IT at 1:37 PM on May 22, 2018


I’m starting to realize the thing I like most about dystopian novels is the part where the protagonist and their scrappy band are overthrowing everything. Or at least seriously subverting it.

"WOLVERINES!"
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 1:51 PM on May 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


"I wonder if it is against the data protection act to sell video from public CCTV cameras to the likes of Amazon to use for promotional purposes."

Unless I missed something here, they aren't selling (or renting) any datasets; the customers have to provide these. They are selling (er, renting, SaaS style) the software to process the images.

This stuff isn't just in the reach of large multinationals, you can roll your own implementations. To those that would outlaw this stuff - the cat is already out of the bag. The best we can do is regulate *how* this stuff is used.
posted by el io at 2:34 PM on May 22, 2018 [3 favorites]


Remind me to get my glasses frames painted with that high-reflectiveness infrared mirror stuff.
posted by Quackles at 2:37 PM on May 22, 2018


The future is already here, just not evenly distributed:

"For millions of people in China’s remote far west, this dystopian future is already here. China, which has already deployed the world’s most sophisticated internet censorship system, is building a surveillance state in Xinjiang, a four-hour flight from Beijing, that uses both the newest technology and human policing to keep tabs on every aspect of citizens’ daily lives. The region is home to a Muslim ethnic minority called the Uighurs, who China has blamed for forming separatist groups and fueling terrorism. Since this spring, thousands of Uighurs and other ethnic minorities have disappeared into so-called political education centers, apparently for offenses from using Western social media apps to studying abroad in Muslim countries, according to relatives of those detained."
posted by bookman117 at 2:42 PM on May 22, 2018 [5 favorites]


Reminder: Amazon now owns Whole Foods
posted by aniola at 4:09 PM on May 22, 2018


Bezos, I have fucking tole you, check me out here, mmkay? I mean I'd just link over to a live FB profile pic. Notice served: your actions w/r/t The Expanse count for something here. Not much, right? But like for a day I will lay off propagandizing my pets against you.
posted by mwhybark at 4:11 PM on May 22, 2018


It is even difficult for Han ethnic people who have their residence registered in Xinjiang. So even if you are living in Beijing or elsewhere in china, you get special targeting for attention. I know a couple of people here, young women who are very obviously not Muslim and not political, who are under ongoing surveillance and whose friends get called in for interviews, etc. Their one wish is to get their residence status officially changed.
posted by Meatbomb at 4:18 PM on May 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


FACE THE TELESCREEN ALEXA.
Nope, just doesn't have the same ring.
posted by klanawa at 5:04 PM on May 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


Washington Co,. Oregon, eh? They got a Nike, an Intel, a huge newish Amazon distribution center, not to mention other such like Techtronix etc. I'm not surprised, I guess. I hate the cops around here and seriously regret renewing that recent local option levy from the late 80s that partially funds them. iirc.

And yes, I immediately thought about what's happening in Xinjiang, too.
posted by one teak forest at 7:09 PM on May 22, 2018


I know this isn’t the point, but $6-12 a month seems like a bargain for this service.
posted by greermahoney at 9:23 PM on May 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


I hear it's the main reason for the Amazon Prime cost bump this year
posted by mwhybark at 11:04 PM on May 22, 2018


Standard Amazon tactic: lose money while undercutting the competition until they go out of business, capture market segment.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 11:09 PM on May 22, 2018


Rekognition costs way more than $6-12 a month. That would only cover the storage fees for the facial metadata. The real expense is making passes over the video data which is $0.10 a minute if they have it stored on S3 (plus the S3 charges for storing the video)
posted by Perfectibilist at 10:38 AM on May 23, 2018


According to the link of competing services I posted upthread:
Face Recognition and Face Detection by Lambda Labs – With over 1,000 calls per month in the free pricing tier, and only $0.0024 per extra API call, this API is a really affordable option for developers wanting to use a facial recognition API.
I've never played with this stuff, so don't read this as a personal endorsement.
posted by el io at 11:29 AM on May 23, 2018 [1 favorite]


this API is a really affordable option for developers wanting to use a facial recognition API.

AKA "Governments of all sizes: come 'n get it!"

This is how company data gets used for troublesome public policy. Would that Lambda Labs prohibited governments from signing up.
posted by rhizome at 1:15 PM on May 23, 2018


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