After Google’s Project Maven, it is now Microsoft (MSFT) and Amazon (AMZN) that are facing pressure from employees, investors and outside groups for collaborating with government agencies for various projects. Microsoft landed in hot water after a blog post from January revealed the company’s satisfaction over its work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) involving its cloud computing platform Azure Government.
ICE has come under fire lately for the separation of children from their families at the US-Mexico border, an issue Microsoft has disapproved of and distanced itself from following the outrage. Amid speculations that its facial recognition technology was being utilized by the agency, the tech giant claimed to have no knowledge of its Azure products being used for the aforementioned reason.
Microsoft employees and some third-party developers have expressed their discontent at the company’s involvement with the agency. Earlier this year, Google employees expressed their disapproval of the company’s collaboration with the Pentagon in applying AI tools to drone footage for identification of people and places. The Alphabet (GOOGL) subsidiary decided not to renew the contract after its expiry in 2019.
Civil rights advocates worry that these surveillance tools can be used against minorities, immigrants and dissidents unfairly
Joining Google and Microsoft in this sticky situation is none other than Amazon (AMZN). The online retailer is facing ire over its facial recognition technology Rekognition being sold to law enforcement agencies. A group of shareholders have written to CEO Jeff Bezos asking him to stop the development and marketing of Rekognition to government agencies until a final decision over the use of the tool is made by the board of directors.
The shareholders, along with civil rights advocates, are worried that these surveillance tools can be used against minorities, immigrants and dissidents unfairly. While these shareholders have additional concerns over their holdings as any negative impact to the business would affect them financially, they do not have enough voting power to push harder. Bezos being the largest shareholder gets the last word.
Amazon had earlier said that it was not possible to stop technology over fears of misuse and that its facial recognition tool had helped in solving crimes such as kidnappings. Although Amazon is silent for now, it may have to pay heed to its investors if they start dumping the stock.
This puts the spotlight on the same issue once again – should tech companies help the government in matters of law enforcement and national security? Apple (AAPL) introduced a new feature last week that would make it more difficult for law enforcers to get access to iPhone data. Although Google said it was exiting Project Maven, it said it would continue to work with the government on other projects.
Silicon Valley has to be extra cautious in maneuvering itself due to the global reach of its operations and the diversity of its workforce but it also has to watch out by not going too far as to invite unwanted regulations of any sort.
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