City Of Orlando Kicks Amazon's Facial Recognition Tech To The Curb

from the bandwidth-for-bullshit-seems-to-be-drying-up dept

For a few years now, the company behind online streaming and speedy, cheap shipping has been seeking to expand its offerings. Amazon Web Services pays the bills, providing data storage for multiple companies/governments. "We can remember it for you wholesale!" Amazon promises. But that's the old thing.

The next tech bet Amazon is willing to use as a loss leader to gain market share is facial recognition. Amazon has been handing this stuff out like bank teller lollipops to any law enforcement agency with money to spend and a desire to expand its surveillance net.

Naturally, Amazon is high on its own supply. Everyone else, not so much. Congress demanded answers after a test drive of Amazon's facial recognition tech (called "Rekognition" because misspellings mean the future is now) said 28 of its members were criminals.

At that point, it was no longer an existential threat to people's freedom. It was now a pile of computational garbage incapable of telling a Congressperson from a criminal. That those two groups sometimes have a significant overlap was lost on everyone involved. But the upshot was the US federal government had its eyes pinned on Rekognition, for better or worse.

Cops shops love tech, especially the cheap kind. They also love the sort of tech they can pretend to understand as they pitch it to city legislators who also pretend to understand it. Some legislators are ahead of the curve and are telling cops this simply isn't going to happen on their watch, but for everyone else, there's cheap facial recognition tech from a recognized brand name not really recognized (yet!) for cop tech.

Sadly, not everyone is happy with the cheap goods Amazon sort of sold them. The Orlando Police Department decided to give Amazon's Rekognition program for a test drive. After 15 months and an untold amount of dissatisfaction, the department is pulling the plug on its relationship with the internet giant.

Orlando's two-phase pilot with Amazon to try out real-time facial recognition software ended Thursday, capping 15 months of technical lags, bandwidth issues and uncertainty over whether the controversial face-scanning technology actually works.

Read this closely. It says several negative things about Amazon's latest product. First, it says Amazon's infrastructure can't deliver on the promises the company makes. Second -- and most importantly -- it says there are serious doubts about the tech itself.

The city of Orlando, faced with disappointing tech and growing public opposition, has read the wind speed changes and adjusted accordingly.

"At this time, the city was not able to dedicate the resources to the pilot to enable us to make any noticeable progress toward completing the needed configuration and testing," Orlando's Chief Administrative Office said in a memo to City Council, adding that the city has "no immediate plans regarding future pilots to explore this type of facial recognition technology."

The city is unwilling to piss residents off by allowing the PD to deploy faulty tech at their expense. Good call. Sometimes politicians playing it safe pays off for taxpayers. There's no codified moratorium on facial recognition tech in Orlando, but this "hold the fuck up" declaration doesn't exactly encourage further experimentation. Amazon is out. Others could step up and take its place. But for now, Orlando looks like San Francisco, which was the first city in the United States to ban the use of facial recognition tech by city government agencies.

Digging a little deeper, it still appears the problem is more tech-related than we-give-a-shit-about-our-residents-related. As noted earlier, bandwidth was a problem. The other hitch was image resolution. The city's cameras aren't optimized for facial recognition. The video resolution was too low and the cameras positioned too high to snag enough faces for testing. Add this to bandwidth limitations, and the rollout couldn't actually identify faces on the fly.

Amazon is obviously disappointed by this decision. Its official statement says the company believes it offers the best technology and that cities like Orlando are better off buying products they can't actually use yet. But if this is the best Amazon has to offer, it's not going to impress many government clients. Bandwidth may be an end user problem, but it makes zero difference to end users if what's promised isn't what's actually delivered.

Orlando's aborted test flight doesn't bode well for Amazon's embattled offering. If clients can't seamlessly misidentify people, no one's going to re-up subscriptions to a service that stutters along, hampered by bandwidth that can't cash the checks Amazon's figuratively writing. That being said, the company will still find law enforcement partners willing to test drive its facial recognition software simply because the fiscal barrier to entry is so low.

But, once it becomes obvious they're only getting what they paid for, the allure of cheap/free tech is going to wear off. And every time it fails, it gives cities reasons to get out of the facial recognition business. That will help the public in the long run and that definitely isn't a bad thing.

Filed Under: facial recognition, orlando


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 26 Jul 2019 @ 4:36pm

    Too good to pass up

    Naturally, Amazon is high on its own supply. Everyone else, not so much. Congress demanded answers after a test drive of Amazon's facial recognition tech (called "Rekognition" because misspellings mean the future is now) said 28 of its members were criminals.

    Members of congress: This is an outrage, how dare your tech claim that twenty-eight of us are criminals!

    Members of the public: That is outrageous, pretty sure that number should be much higher...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jul 2019 @ 5:10pm

    I don't think the cops will give up a shinny toy.

    I'll believe it when I see it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jul 2019 @ 6:21pm

    just a tech problem?

    ... so when Amazon eventually works the technical bugs out of its facial recognition system -- Everybody will be happy ?

    or is there some specific legal protection for Orlando residents and visitors that would stop the police from deploying the system?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 26 Jul 2019 @ 6:29pm

      Re: just a tech problem?

      "or is there some specific legal protection for Orlando residents and visitors that would stop the police from deploying the system?"

      Unfortunately not. If your in public, anyone can take pictures of you. The issue comes when people are falsely accused of being someone they are not. Then the problem is, it is likely a civil matter to sue, that is if the falsely accused person can afford it and it ain't cheap.

      Legislatures could take care of this, but they won't. At least not anytime soon.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 26 Jul 2019 @ 7:03pm

        Re: Re: just a tech problem?

        well, the facial recognition system ain't worth much without a BIG database of face-photos -- legal restrictions on the development and use such databases would seem the proper defense of personal privacy

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 27 Jul 2019 @ 7:43am

        Re: Re: just a tech problem?

        Did you dress her up like this?
        No! (no no... no) Yes. (yes yeah) a bit (a bit bit a bit) But she has got a wart!
        What makes you think she is a witch?
        Well, she turned me into a newt!

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 27 Jul 2019 @ 7:51am

        Out of a not-insignificant number

        The issue comes when people are falsely accused of being someone they are not

        That is one of the problems, yes.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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