Between its line of Ring-brand surveillance doorbells and its "Rekognition" facial recognition product (both of which are used in law-enforcement and immigration-enforcement contexts), Amazon is at the center of the controversy over facial recognition technology.
As cities and states get involved in banning or limiting the use of facial recognition tools, Amazon is desperate to preempt these local initiatives and see the passage of a federal facial recognition law or regulation (tech companies are also lobbying for federal privacy rules, for much the same reason), and they've drafted model rules that would allow them to continue the majority of their existing and planned practices.
The calculus behind this move is interesting. Amazon could certainly get a less restrictive deal in some cities and states than it can get at the federal level (see how easily Amazon was able to coerce cities into offering it special treatment and cash incentives when it was considering a location for its second headquarters). But then it would have to contend with a complex patchwork of rules with very high stakes for getting it wrong (think, for example, of the complexity of selling facial recognition tools to Amtrak or Greyhound, then having to somehow tweak those tools when a train crosses a state line). Amazon is clearly willing to sacrifice some advantages if it can reduce complexity.
"Our public policy team is actually working on facial recognition regulations; it makes a lot of sense to regulate that," Bezos said in response to a reporter's question.
The idea is that Amazon will write its own draft of what it thinks federal legislation should look like, and it will then pitch lawmakers to adopt as much of it as possible.
"It's a perfect example of something that has really positive uses, so you don't want to put the brakes on it," Bezos added. "But, at the same time, there's also potential for abuses of that kind of technology, so you do want regulations. It's a classic dual-use kind of technology."
He did not provide details on what's in the proposed legislation.
Jeff Bezos says Amazon is writing its own facial recognition laws to pitch to lawmakers
[Jason Del Rey/Recode]
(Image: Steve Jurvetson, CC BY, modified)