Amazon Makes the Case That Rekognition Is a Force for Good

In June, in a letter to Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos, almost 19 groups of Amazon shareholders expressed concern about the company’s cloud-based facial recognition system Rekognition being provided to law enforcement in Orlando, Florida and the Washington County (Oregon) Sheriff’s Office. They joined forces with Amazon employees, the ACLU, academics and more than 70 other groups to protest the decision. After the ACLU showed how Rekognition can err in IDing people, three Democratic lawmakers joined the chorus.

VentureBeat reports that Amazon came back with a published case study “highlighting the ways that Rekognition, which launched as part of Amazon Web Services (AWS) two years ago at Amazon’s Re:Invent conference in November 2016, is being used as a force for good.”

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One example is data analytics company Marinus Analytics that is using AI tools, including Rekognition, to provide agencies tools “that assist with identifying and finding victims of sexual trafficking.” One of these, Traffic Jam, uses FaceSearch, a facial recognition feature that “leverages Rekognition to search through millions of records in seconds.”

According to Amazon, “FaceSearch helped a detective find a phone number registered to a sex trafficking victim’s name in a two-year-old photograph, leading to the identification of 20 total victims and landing the perpetrator behind bars in just three months.”

“Without Traffic Jam, investigators are left to sift through thousands of online ads manually,” said Marinus Analytics president/cofounder Emily Kennedy. “This means they sit at their computer, with a picture of the victim taped to their screen, and compare every photo they see online in the hope that they might find a match. Using AI technology, like Amazon Rekognition, this critical task can now be done with more accuracy and within seconds as compared to days, which is so important in cases where detectives have limited time to find the victim before he or she is moved to the next city.”

Amazon also pointed to startup Thorn, a nonprofit organization that uses Rekognition and other AWS tools including Spotlight “to identify and rescue children who have been sexually abused.” It has thus far “identified 5,894 sex trafficking victims and helped to recover 103 of them to date.”

Thorn chief executive Julie Cordua said that, “machine learning algorithms have reduced investigation time by 65 percent.” These examples are “part of a broader campaign by Amazon to push back against Rekognition’s critics.”

The report adds more fuel to Amazon Web Services general manager Matt Wood’s statement in June that the tools were “materially benefiting” society by “preventing human trafficking, inhibiting child exploitation, reuniting missing children with their families, and building educational apps for children” and by “enhancing security through multi-factor authentication, finding images more easily, or preventing package theft.”