Amazon Pauses Police Use of Its Facial Recognition Software

SEATTLE — Amazon said on Wednesday that it was putting a one-year pause on letting the police use its facial recognition tool, in a major sign of the growing concerns that the technology may lead to unfair treatment of African-Americans.

The technology giant did not explain its reasoning in its brief blog post about the change, but the move came amid the nationwide protests over racism and biased policing. Amazon’s technology had been criticized in the past for misidentifying people of color.

In its blog post, the company said it hoped the moratorium on its service, Rekognition, “might give Congress enough time to put in place appropriate rules” for the ethical use of facial recognition.

In the past, Amazon had said its tools were accurate but were improperly used by researchers.

On Monday, IBM said it would stop selling facial recognition products, and last year, the leading maker of police body cameras banned the use of facial recognition on its products at the recommendation of its independent ethics board.

Amazon introduced Rekognition in 2016 as a low-cost, “highly scalable” way to identify images, including people, in vast databases. Soon after, it began pitching the police on the tool to help investigations, and law enforcement agencies began adopting the technology.

In an interview run on the PBS show “Frontline” earlier this year, Andy Jassy, the chief executive of Amazon Web Services, said he did not think the company knew how many police departments were deploying the technology.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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