Amazon's cloud chief defends use of facial recognition software

Critics say its Rekognition service could threaten civil liberties if used by law enforcement.

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Amazon Web Services Chief Executive Officer Andy Jassy
Amazon Web Services Chief Executive Officer Andy Jassy Credit: Bloomberg Inc.'s cloud chief defended the use of controversial facial recognition software and said the company is educating government officials about the service and how the technology might be regulated.

Amazon Web Services Chief Executive Officer Andy Jassy addressed criticism that its Rekognition service, which can identify people from photos and video, threatens civil liberties if it is used by law enforcement.

"Even though we haven't had a reported abuse case, we're very aware people will be able to do things with these services that could do harm," Jassy said to reporters at the company's annual re:Invent conference in Las Vegas.

The software can be used at lower confidence levels for tasks such as identifying celebrities in video footage, Jassy said. But the confidence levels should be set higher when used by law enforcement and should only be a tool, not the sole factor used in making a decision, he said. Machine learning software can be dialed up or down, depending on how accurate users want the results to be. Higher confidence levels are set when more accuracy is needed.

The American Civil Liberties Union in May blasted Amazon for marketing the service to law enforcement agencies. Another civil rights group, the Project on Government Oversight, criticized the company in October for offering the software to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

--Bloomberg News

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