Inside The 1% Who Took A Stand

A picture of a woman with black hair and a purple shirt with networks on her face to show facial recognition technology.
Source: https://pixabay.com/illustrations/flat-recognition-facial-face-woman-3252983/

‘THE BOARD RECOMMENDS THAT YOU VOTE “AGAINST” THIS PROPOSAL REQUESTING A BAN ON GOVERNMENT USE OF CERTAIN TECHNOLOGIES.’

What Is Amazon Rekognition?

If you’re interested in this blog, you’re also likely to be subsumed in the Apple Ecosystem too. Facial recognition is nothing new. Apple first introduced facial recognition on their iPhone X in 2017 to replace the TouchID phone unlocking feature. Similarly, if you’ve ever used an ePassport Gate at the airport, that uses facial recognition to match the photo on your passport with the image of the person scanning the passport. Amazon Rekognition is no different.

This is a Washington Post video explaining the software, its uses and dangers. Important notice on the scrutiny of this video: Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s Founder and CEO, owns the Washington Post.

Who Are The Shareholders?

Amazon reported in its 2019 Annual Statement that it has 2315 shareholders of common stock. Jeff Bezos, its CEO, owns 12% of those shares and Amazon’s top four shareholders own a combined 16%, equitable to Bezos before divorce earlier this year. However, there were nineteen entities, with undisclosed amounts of shares which took the plunge. Below is two tables comparing the Amazon ten largest investors’ interests to those of the nineteen who wrote to Bezos to stop Rekognition’s development.

Author’s Table showing stake per investor and examples of their other investments. Sources: https://www.holdingschannel.com and https://money.cnn.com/quote/shareholders/shareholders.html?symb=AMZN&subView=institutional
Author’s Table depicting the interests of the 19 shareholders who signed the letter to Jeff Bezos. Most are private organisations so their shares are not known, nor their other investments. Information retrieved from respective websites. Categories made by Author. Source: https://www.aclu.org/sites/default/files/field_document/amzn_rekog_shareholder_letter.pdf

What Was The Result Of The Shareholder Meeting?

In total, shareholders voted on twelve resolutions, including wage equity, climate change, food waste and, of course, facial recognition sales to government agencies.

Consumerism Led Us Here

Our yearning for one-day delivery allowed the company to progress towards uncharted territories. As with science, we worship technology and promise it’ll solve the world’s problems. Proponents such as Bill Gates sparked a trend towards idolising the technological fix without wariness of the possible side-effects.

Inside-Out Corporate Bureaucracy

The complexity of these transnational corporations is far beyond our purview. The nineteen who shook the boardroom and led Amazon to the front pages are part of ‘activist shareholders’ working from the inside. While we can blog, protest and debate about the effects of Amazon’s (almost) monopoly, money talks.

Negligence or Recklessness?

A last point to make is about the future. Let’s assume that Amazon was negligent in its development of Rekognition. Now, they are aware of the concerns, despite their insistence that nothing sinister will come of it. But what does it mean if something does happen?

A Final Word

Although the road ahead is unclear, the resolve shown already by activist shareholders highlights genuine promise moving forward. It signals a possible mindset shift away from government regulation that stifles development and towards a capitalist strategy that invests, not exploits the consumer.

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Danial Naqvi

Danial Naqvi

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Joint PhD Candidate Business & Management at Manchester & Melbourne| MSc UCL Science, Technology and Society | BA (Hons) QMUL Human Geography |