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Amazon's cloud CEO just pooh-poohed employee concerns about selling its facial-recognition software to ICE and law enforcement (AMZN)


Andy Jassy, CEO of Amazon Web Services, or AWS, the retail giant's cloud-computing business.

  • At a company meeting Thursday, Andy Jassy, CEO of Amazon Web Services, addressed employees' concerns about the company's practice of offering its facial-recognition software to immigration and law-enforcement agencies, according to BuzzFeed News.
  • Jassy largely dismissed those concerns, suggesting they weren't broadly shared in the company and arguing that the company's terms of service would prevent its software from being used for bad purposes, the report said.

At a company meeting Thursday, the head of Amazon's cloud-computing division largely dismissed employees' concerns about it marketing its facial-recognition technology to immigration and law-enforcement agencies, BuzzFeed News reported.

Hundreds of Amazon employees have signed a letter to CEO Jeff Bezos asking that the company stop offering that software, dubbed Rekognition, to law enforcement officials. But at the meeting, Andy Jassy, CEO of Amazon Web Services, suggested that their concerns weren't shared universally within the company, according to the BuzzFeed News report. And Amazon's management is comfortable with continuing to offer the software to government agencies, he said.

"With over 500,000 employees like we have at Amazon, I think we're going to have people who have opinions that are very wide-ranging, which is great," Jassy said, according to a transcript provided to BuzzFeed News. "But we feel really great and really strongly about the value that Amazon Rekognition is providing our customers of all sizes and all types of industries in law enforcement and out of law enforcement."

In the letter, which has now been signed by some 450 Amazon workers, the employees voiced concern that the facial-recognition software would be used as a surveillance tool against citizens and would be used to harm marginalized groups and people. They were especially concerned that by aiding the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, Amazon was complicit in such policies as the widely decried practice — since stopped — of separating undocumented immigrant children from their parents or other caregivers.

Read more: Amazon employees are reportedly gearing up to confront CEO Jeff Bezos at an all-staff meeting this week about selling facial recognition software to law enforcement

Any technology can be used for evil, Jassy said

Amazon is among several big tech companies facing pushback from employees about the way their products are used. Employees at Google forced the company to forswear doing business with the military if its technology was going to be used in weapons. 

But Amazon's Jassy pushed back on such ethical concerns. Any technology can be used for "evil" ends, he told employees, according to the report. Amazon has tried to prevent that from happening by requiring users of its Rekognition software and other AWS features to agree to its terms of service, which mandate that they're used "responsibly," he said.

If customers violate "folks' constitutional rights," they won't be able to use the service, Jassy said, according to the report. And he said it was up to the government to set the guidelines for appropriate use of such technology.

In addition to calling on Amazon to cease providing its facial-recognition software to ICE and law enforcement agencies, the letter also demanded that Amazon cancel Palantir's access to AWS' services. Palantir, the secretive data mining startup, has been a technology provider to ICE, according to published reports.

Jassy apparently didn't address that demand.

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