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Amazon Employee: We Shouldn’t Sell Facial Recognition Tech to Police (medium.com)
313 points by venturis_voice 30 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 266 comments



This argument conflates a number of issues and frankly loses steam on that basis. The running list of demands so far: Don’t sell facial recognition, don’t work with the government, kick a paying customer off of your system because of who they provide services to and while we are at it you shouldn’t be working with anyone I don’t like. Is that it? For now, but check back with me cause I might want to add greedy investment firms to the list or any other villain of the moment.

I really find it odd that all of a sudden tech employees are resistant to supporting their own government. If it’s about the current administration - they are gonna be gone in a couple years and you want another admin to be years behind in capability?

The reason the internet and the tech industry as a whole exists at this point is because of the defense technology complex.

If this really bothered people they would leave the nice paycheck and the perks and go work for a co-op or a non profit or some other organization untouched by anything unsavory.


For what it's worth, those 450 "signatures" were just members of an email list. That email list was founded to discuss ethical issues and draft a letter of complain, but discussion quickly fizzled without consensus on issues or solutions.

Then, a month later, this was published out of the blue. No prior communication, no broader input, not even the opportunity to opt-out.

Pretty unethical. As someone who was on that list, that letter is in no way representative... most had pragmatic complaints, like ethical oversight mechanisms to ensure engineers weren't transitively supporting dictatorships. This letter is so hand-wavy, simultaneously cynical and naive.


[flagged]


Since you've continued to break the site guidelines after we repeatedly asked you to stop, we've banned this account.

If you don't want to be banned on HN, you're welcome to email hn@ycombinator.com and give us reason to believe that you'll follow the rules in the future.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


Unless I misunderstood losteric, it sounds like all the names of people on a mailing list were automatically added as “signatures” to this letter even if they didn’t agree with the letter contents.

That sounds pretty unethical.


I'm sure some agree, but yes the list never saw the complaints or demands.


I really find it odd that all of a sudden tech employees are resistant to supporting their own government.

Nothing sudden about it. If anything, this trend is a return to normalcy. Hackers have traditionally been fairly opposed to authoritarianism, including - but not limited to - that expressed through the mechanism of governments and nation-states.


Exactly. There's a reason the average Berkeley-Unix/MIT-Lisp programmer is depicted as having a long beard: the creators of much of the foundations of our modern software ecosystem were a bunch of hippies, who hated the idea of their code being used to make money, let alone to power weapons. They saw code as a more direct manifestation of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flower_power: something you can create and promulgate that, in so doing, resists top-down authoritarian control and promotes bottom-up communication and organization.

This fact is subtext to a lot of the flamewars that occurred between these "greybeard hackers" and mainframe programmers on the one hand, and Windows PC programmers on the other hand. In both cases, the greybeards saw their counterparts working at IBM or Microsoft, or working at other companies developing software for z/OS or Windows, as people who were willing to "sell out" and work for "the man." (Not "the man" as in Microsoft/IBM; "the man" as in the government's various three-letter agencies.)

This was also the original subtext of Microsoft and Apple's fight over personal-computer market mindshare. Bill Gates and Paul Allen came from money, met at a private prep school, and shared a vision of selling their software to companies like IBM, who would drop thousands of copies top-down into enterprise partners' offices. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were introduced because of a shared interest in illegal pursuits like phone phreaking and LSD use, and wanted—sort of like the One Laptop Per Child project—to empower individuals by putting computers in their hands. (Consider: they were probably envisioning use-cases exactly like "being able to share copies of the Anarchist's Cookbook over the Internet.")

Apple and Microsoft today are more alike than different, but they started off with diametrically-opposed cultures and corporate visions; and which ecosystem you bought into (at least back when) could tell people a lot about who you were as a person. There was a reason Apple found its first beach-head in schools: the schoolteachers of the 1970s shared pretty much the same countercultural ideals.

Read through the Jargon File, or the fortune(1) database, and you'll quickly get a sense of what "hackers" as a culture were like. A modern Stanford-MBA-alum YC applicant, who fancies themselves a "hacker", might be a bit shocked :)


Trust in government is at an all time low, and IMO for good reason. Secret courts, lack of oversight and transparency, massive data collection, downplaying of what that means, security breaches, lack of competency at the court and congress level to even understand what they are passing into law, and most importantly regulatory capture.

Personally I'd be OK with government collection of some data if I knew it was properly secured, there was more oversight, and if it wasn't so beholden to corporate interests.

If anything, the current administration makes this even worse in my opinion, but it was already a really big problem with the previous administration.


A balance is going to have to be found here. A nightmare scenario for technology is one where it’s perceived as boot-licky and enabling the worst parts of government. Finding talent was hard even when tech was perceived as good or at least neutral; if it’s seen as an imperialist cog or even just an enabler for our governments bad behaviors it will make developing organizations even harder.


This talent scenario is a plausible one that could turn the balance from huge companies taking all the oxygen out of the system towards smaller ones being able to innovate again.


The problem is so few startups IPO and instead organize around becoming acquisition targets for "huge companies" that would theoretically now be in deep with the defense and law enforcement.


Will it? Or will it make developing the wrong type of organization harder?

I'm not clear if you're predicting a drought of Computer Science students or a drought of Fortune 500 company computer science hiring candidates.


Demands like this consequently further authoritarianism based on the belief "As <PartyX>, we believe we hold a superior moral/ethical high ground, and should therefore be responsible for the decision-making that impacts the masses."

Identifying as being on the "correct side" pushes an agenda of inequality and gatekeeping out of confirmation bias (which, in theory, this group stands against given the current political discussions surrounding such issues).

If the point of revoking services and kicking customers out of their walled garden is to combat the villain of the moment and make them suffer, that is sure to have unintended negative consequences as well. The terms of this letter are looking through a lens blanketing entities as good or bad, when in reality it isn't as clear cut. Such mechanism also seems rife for abuse.

People also love to knock the government because it's easy to do, but they forget we are also responsible for the government by choosing to live in a democracy. Times change, societies change, laws change. Sure, at times it seems nothing changes and things stay shitty, but with that attitude there's nearly a guarantee that will stay true. People can talk the talk to their heart's content, but it's far easier to wish than to do.


> I really find it odd that all of a sudden tech employees are resistant to supporting their own government.

Could you expand on this? Because it reads like "help build killing machines even though you signed up for a completely different job, or you don't support your government because you're a political partisan."


> Could you expand on this? Because it reads like "help build killing machines even though you signed up for a completely different job, or you don't support your government because you're a political partisan."

What's to expand upon? Anyone will admit that there are good elements and bad elements to the way our police force operates. This boils down to the question "Do you believe our police force as it exists today has a net-positive impact on our society?"

I suspect very few people would say they believe they have a net-negative impact. And even among the people that say they believe the police have a net-negative impact very few people actually act as if that is what they believe.


> This boils down to the question "Do you believe our police force as it exists today has a net-positive impact on our society?"

That is supposed to be the benchmark now? Holy shit.


Your argument sounds a lot like an argument that excludes the middle. It is perfectly reasonable to work for a government or a company while at the same time demanding that decision-takers within that organization do not completely disregard morals, or the general well-being of society.

This sort of thing is not a matter of binary choices.


Bezos had a reasonable response as reported by the WSJ, though it was somewhat hidden beneath a clickbait headline.

[0] https://www.wsj.com/articles/bezos-bucks-the-bullies-1539818...


p.s., The topic he was addressing was slightly different but the comment is still relevant here.


> Amazon, where I work, is currently allowing police departments around the country to purchase its facial recognition product, Rekognition, and I and other employees demand that we stop immediately.

Ok, nod, nod...

> The letter also contained demands to kick Palantir, the software firm that powers much of ICE's deportation and tracking program, off Amazon Web Services and to institute employee oversight for ethical decisions.

Nope, lost me. These should not be lumped together for a myriad of reasons. First, you are diluting your original goal. Second, you risk AWS being seen as non-neutral based on the whims of employees' feelings about a company (as opposed to something illegal). Third, you cannot be consistent with this approach (e.g. all the gov cloud stuff). Fourth, there is a clear delineation between computing services like AWS and targeted software efforts like facial recognition systems, like the difference between a phone company and a weapons manufacturer. Fifth, AWS is not value added enough nor can it see enough of what's going on with its customers for this to be any more than virtue signalling.

If you want to ban companies you disagree with from AWS, I disagree with it, but at least separate the requests. The Google employees you are following in the footsteps of are not demanding that Android calling be disabled for certain companies or Google search be restricted from use by them. Maybe Amazon should also not ship any products to that company too?


The letter sounds like something written by a small number of radical employees, because it was.

Most of those "450 signatures" never saw the letter prior to distribution. There were some pragmatic debates without consensus, many bringing up your concerns, then silence, then this gets sent out of nowhere. If the signatories had been consulted prior to distribution, I wouldn't be surprised if the number fell to... maybe 10?

This really reflects our political sphere. Partisans ignoring even the input of allies, blindly charging forward with irrational demands, and alienating rather than convincing the moderate majority. They operate as if this is a movie, where the hero makes a grand statement and instantly win support...


The real issue is that the leader of ICE / Military / etc. etc. change power roughly... every 4 years. Police is a local issue, and may change closer to every 2 years (although local municipalities may have a Sheriff, or a Commission, or may rely upon a Mayor to make those decisions).

We already have a mechanism for choosing the leader of these various institutions. And whatever powers we give to these institutions, we have to recognize that they will change leadership as quickly as a single election.

Ultimately, it should be a political issue... first and foremost. We may not have the best political system possible, but its the best that we all can agree to. As such, we should rely upon the culture of this country to provide us the leaders who we would be proud to give these powers to.


So people have been separated from their children should just wait for the American people to maaaaaaybe kick out the jackboots in two to four years?

Naw, dawg, when things get ugly, you have to resist where you can. I'm guessing you can't agree, but there's a fair number of people who think we're in a Germany 1937 situation. We have a president who in all likelihood enlisted Russian interference in the election, who shares plenty of rhetorical similarity to actual fascists. We have a Congress that is moving as fast as it can to stack the judiciary, which in turn will hear future election cases. Things are getting grim. I've lived and worked in places where these processes have played out - like Hungary - and anyone who says it can't happen here is kidding themselves.


Those people were caught committing a crime. And it's not the kind of crime one could commit by mistake, they were entering a country illegally.


> Those people were caught committing a crime.

Speeding tickets are also people who were caught committing a crime.

Regardless, it is a new policy to put Adults who cross with children (even though many of these Adults are the parents of those children) into jail.

I for one, believe that there are more humane ways to treat boarder-crossers who are crossing with their family. Sure, maybe put the lone crossers into jail, but if they're coming over with kids, then I'd hope that the judges / immigration agents / etc. etc. have power to show compassion in those cases.

So yeah, put some of them in jail, and put others into other forms of detention that don't necessarily involve separating kids from their parents. And yes, I recognize that Coyotes exist (professional illegal boarder crossers who specialize in trafficking children into America), so I recognize that ICE has a hard job here. But a repeat-offender like a Coyote could be caught on the 2nd or 3rd attempt. I recognize that ICE needs a plan to deal with Coyotes appropriately, and that not every adult-with-children is necessarily the parent.

There's a lot of ways to deal with the problem, and its sad that the current administration thinks that separating families is the best way forward.

If separations are to happen, I want it to happen only to Coyotes and the children they're smuggling. We need to be careful to keep the real parents together with their real children.


It's not as black and white as you make it seem. Being in the country unlawfully is not a crime, it's a civil infraction. Entering unlawfully (through something other than a border) is a crime, when it happens, but the subsequent stay is once again a civil infraction.

Most unlawful residents did not enter unlawfully, they overstayed on visas or in some other way went from a legal stay to an unlawful one. These people would not be committing a crime.


Interestingly, andun is a new account and seems to be a holocaust denier, based on at least one of their other comments ("purported holocaust death camps").

Engage accordingly.


people have been separated from their children

This happens any time anyone is sent to prison for any reason, no?


Being in the country without authorization is a civil infraction, not a criminal one, and people aren't sent to prison for civil infractions.

You're also allowed to be here if you're seeking asylum.

But, at the end of the day, if your basis for the family border separation policy is to defend it with "well, criminals also have their families broken up," then I'm not sure how to convince you it's right to care about and have empathy for families and other human beings.


if your basis for the family border separation policy is to defend it with "well, criminals also have their families broken up,"

Not at all. I just find it curious that this one particular application of what is actually a common policy has suddenly become protest-worthy. By all means protest it in its entirety (if you think it’s appropriate for children to serve sentences alongside their parents in the same cells) but anything else just looks politically motivated.


a) It's a new policy. Separating migrants from their kids started under Trump.

b) The effects are actually even worse than they are in the jail/prison situation. The kids themselves are incarcerated, as they don't have family that they can be placed with. We know that there are many migrants who have been deported after being separated from their children, who are now still in custody.

"At the moment, the government’s rolls include hundreds of children in shelters and temporary foster care programs who were taken from an adult at the border, whether a parent, grandparent or some other companion. About 13,000 children who came to the United States on their own were being held in federally contracted shelters this month, more than five times the number in May 2017." https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/08/us/migrant-children-famil...


It's just a byproduct of protesting against tighter migration control. God forbid law enforcement stops "undocumented".


I does not, you can agree to tight migration enforcement while treating people who are caught by that enforcement humanly.


Why nobody protests when kids are separated if parents are incarcerated in-country?

What would be humane treatment? Hold kids together with parents? Same people will be outraged by putting kids behind (hypotethical) bars.


Changing the putative elected "leader" of a large organization isn't guaranteed to change the organization. Often the new elected public servant finds she/he is powerless without kowtowing to those in the organization (or externally who pull the strings).

I also disagree that we should limit this discussion to political. Companies (esp the size of Amazon) are hardly affected by politics, they are often judged more harshly by the court of public opinion.

Folks who want to prevent what they see as disaster should use all the legal mechanisms possible to enable discourse and change the course of events.


>Second, you risk AWS being seen as non-neutral based on the whims of employees' feelings about a company

God forbid workers have say in how their work is used, instead of just being robots. Smart enough to build the technology, but apparently not qualified enough to have input on limiting its nefarious and anti-social uses at the hand of an executive branch the employees probably don't favor.


Should a conservative bakery be allowed to refuse service based on religious beliefs?


I agree that technology platforms should be neutral, but suggesting that these are at all the same thing is totally ignoring the concept of class struggle.


We codify against pointless discrimination against protected classes of people for a reason. Some things are no longer worth debating and serve no purpose but to actively harm people. So no, they shouldn't be allowed to do that.

Can you explain how discriminating against minority members of society is somehow logically relatable to selling a technological product that immediately expands the governments surface area of an easily abusable power? Because I don't know where bakeries not selling doughnuts to gay people, purely based on personal perspectives, really comes into play with not selling a technological platform that enables governments and its officials to more easily abuse and greatly expand the power they currently have.

From the article:

>On stage, he acknowledged that big tech’s products might be misused, even exploited, by autocrats. But rather than meaningfully explain how Amazon will act to prevent the bad uses of its own technology, Bezos suggested we wait for society’s “immune response.”

>Law enforcement has already started using facial recognition with virtually no public oversight or debate or restrictions on use from Amazon.


>We codify against pointless discrimination against protected classes of people for a reason. Some things are no longer worth debating and serve no purpose but to actively harm people. So no, they shouldn't be allowed to do that.

But where do we draw a bright line? Sure, maybe we want religious people baking cakes for gay weddings. But should Muslim bakers be forced to draw likenesses of the Prophet Muhammad if a customer requests it? Should a bikini wax establishment that only works on women be forced to wax the intimate areas of a pre-op transwoman?


>But where do we draw a bright line?

It's an evolving conversation. There is no line to be drawn. We learn, we codify, we move on.

Let's stick to applicable conversations, shall we?


> Let's stick to applicable conversations, shall we?

Unless you a have a principle that everyone agrees on over what is 'applicable' and what isn't, that veers pretty close to begging the question - conversations that support your point are declared 'applicable', while ones that bring up difficult questions to your point of view get dismissed as off-topic.

Getting back to the original topic, if you're saying that "employees' political views should be taken into account in company decisions", the difficult question is "what about employees whose political views are repugnant to you?" The example of the cake bakery is easy to dismiss because it seems covered by existing law, but what about other cases?

E.g. if a medical device company's employees are religious, should they force it to not sell to abortion providers? Should Trump supporters agitate to only manufacture in the US?


>conversations that support your point are declared 'applicable',

But that's not what's happening.

>the difficult question is "what about employees whose political views are repugnant to you?

Why is this a question? What part of any statement that I made lead to the implication that only a certain subset of employee's should be heard from?

>The example of the cake bakery is easy to dismiss because it seems covered by existing law

It's not only easily dismissable if the conversation called for it, it's actually just irrelevant to the current situation. They touch on two completely different subjects and contexts. A company targeting specific individuals on an ad-hoc basis has no bearing on a company empowering a government with its product. You have to strip both situations down to "employee has opinion, will business listen?" for the current conversation to make any sense. I'd say that'd be absurd to do but I guess that's what we're actually doing.

>if a medical device company's employees are religious, should they force it to not sell to abortion providers?

There is an appreciable difference between a company taking its employee's views and wishes into consideration and obeying laws. There is no law stating that Amazon has to sell this technology. It'd be hard to make such a law, for a whole host of reasons. I'd be happy to expand on such reasons since we're going to start having a civics conversation at any point now.

These kind of analogies, again, are fundamentally mistaken. Because they confuse different issues, different subjects, and different contexts. It's a bad abstraction.


> we codify

That is a line.


So how about we codify that any bakery can refuse any order? Or is that off the table for some reason?


[flagged]


OP should have brought this up.


Not American, what's the link between ICE and the Holocaust?


[flagged]


There's a clear and stark difference between

> want their country to fill with illegal immigrants

and selling facial recognition software to local police departments in main. It's disingenuous to conflate unlike positions. That's not to say I agree with one or or the other, but lets at least pretend to be honest about the comparisons.


Well some countries also don't want legal immigrants.

https://fuckoffgoogle.de/

Pretty good if you want some perspective.


Unless you are a Native American, which make up less than 1% of the population, you came to this country as an immigrant. The vast majority of modern immigrants are coming to the country for a similar reason why people did 100 years ago. Immigration doesn't hurt anything, even if it was the case that it lowered the cost of labor (which it isn't), that would result in a bigger economy with more jobs and employment, which would then result in wages rising again.

Automation and outsourcing are the primary things that have lowered the wages of American workers as it reduced demand for low skill and other manual labor work, not immigrants seeking a better life.


> Second, you risk AWS being seen as non-neutral based on the whims of employees' feelings about a company (as opposed to something illegal).

There are plenty of legal things that I think it’s fine with being non-neutral on. A private company SHOULD be non-neutral based on the whims of the employees! Who else steers their ship?


Can AWS be non-neutral? Sure, legally and even ethically, that's fine.

If AWS is non-neutral, will that hurt their ability to attract clients? Absolutely. I'm the first one in line to abolish ICE, but if AWS starts kicking people they don't like off of AWS I'll also be the first one to stop using it. Sure, we agree on ICE, what about companies that make violent video games? Companies that make firearm accessories?


Why abolish ICE? What specifically is the issue with ICE short of news and celebrities demanding it because it’s in vogue?

They serve a legitimate law enforcement function in our country, which by last check doesn’t have open borders and prosecutes those that cross illegally?


ICE has a weird history going back a long time. They've inked a lot of warrants for.. software piracy, actually. Yeah, not across borders, not like involving immigrants, just, ye olde plain jane software piracy.

Note that I'm not saying we should be getting rid of Customs and Border Patrol, nor am I saying anything crazy like we shouldn't have borders. The problem with ICE is that they're a weird pet agency under DHS that has a lot of power, minimal oversight, and a history of abusing their power.

They also do some exceptionally terrible things like snatching immigrants from courtrooms instead of you know, using local police forces like they should.


Because ICE was the result of 9/11 hysteria, it's a government organization whose duties were already being done elsewhere.

I don't think people realize it was only formed in 2003...


I don't see what it being formed in 2003 has to do with anything.

What exactly is being advocated in abolishing ICE when you bring up that another agency was doing its duties? Are you saying that other agency can take over those duties again?

Most of the abolish ICE crowd just wants to get rid of ICE and ICE's duties. I don't think they want the CBP doing roughly the same thing ICE is doing. They'll just demand we abolish CBP.


ICE is extremely militaristic in its approach. Think if it like replacing all police officers with SWAT team members.


ICE has a history of horrible treatment of detainees, it abuses its authority and I find it strange that small government conservatives love it the most.


I think you're making a general statement, which I agree with in general, and I'm making one based on the nuances of this situation. It matters what you are non-neutral about and it matters if you provide a platform or not. Many see great value in neutral platforms. It should just be clear that picking and choosing winners in this way can harm that appearance of neutrality that may cause other [potential] users of your platform to be concerned about which side of the collective bed the employees will wake up on and kick you off. You can either be consistent or be seen as a risky proposition, especially in foundational contexts where lock-in applies.


Presumably the shareholders via a board of directors and CEO?


OK, invite the shareholders to Seattle to sit down and start working on AWS.


We're busy. But we're willing to pay people to go to Seattle and do it.


> Regardless of our views on the military, no one should be profiting from “increasing the lethality” of the military.

It makes no sense for these two clauses to exist together. If you do not believe that people should profit from increasing the lethality of the military, then you do not believe in the utility of having a military.

Especially when the author follows up with this sentence:

> We will not silently build technology to oppress and kill people, whether in our country or in others.

That is the whole point of having armed forces! Armed forces exist to provide achieve foreign policy goals (deterrence, coercion) through the credible threat of its lethality.

These two sentences are fundamentally pacifist, which is okay if the author claimed that mantle. But don't dress it up with a fake unifying clause like "regardless of our views on the military".


> If you do not believe that people should profit from increasing the lethality of the military, then you do not believe in the utility of having a military.

That doesn't follow. One can believe in the utility of the military while at the same time holding that it must operate purely as a public service, so that no incentives are created for a state of permanent war. Famously, an American president expressed this very concern. I doubt that Dwight Eisenhower did not believe in the utility of the military, given that he was a general.


That would be a different argument. The parent was addressing the ridiculously overbroad claim that no one should profit from "increasing the lethality" of the military. Believing the military should be a "public service" is orthogonal to that, or at least uncorrelated.

You need to consider how broad "increasing lethality" is. The military is more lethal when the troops are healthier. Boom, you "increased lethality" by being a provider of combat meals or training equipment. By sending them less error prone weapons. By coming up with more aerodynamic shapes for the planes that consume less fuel.

If you want e.g. a tighter civilian review of military decisions so that they face tougher and more reliable consequences for unjustified killings, or less foreign deployment, then say that. Focusing on the "lethality of military" is the wrong target.


You're absolutely, completely right. Eisenhower famously hated war, death, and military spending. He utterly loathed it and considered it a drain on humanity.

With that said, it's worth considering that Eisenhower might not have agreed with this:

> no one should be profiting from “increasing the lethality” of the military

Accepting the utility of a military tends to mean accepting that it needs to be competitive in order to achieve the foreign policy goals that go with having a military. This often means incrementally increasing its lethality, and some people are going to make money along the way. Unless we think metal refineries and medical supplies producers and everything else in the supply chain should be operated on a strict non-profit basis.

In short, you are still completely correct! It might be worth considering being careful to avoid overinterpreting President Eisenhower is all.


For reference to those who may not know:

Eisenhower’s Farewell Address https://youtu.be/OyBNmecVtdU


> If you do not believe that people should profit from increasing the lethality of the military, then you do not believe in the utility of having a military.

A clearly and incredibly flawed statement, and dare I say a successful attempt at trolling. Nice to know this is what takes up the first 50% of the thread /sc


Unless the staff operating the public service receive no compensation at all, then there is profit involved.


The conflation of compensation and profit is so toxic - I just don't understand this idealogy.

I mean, I prefer to envision a world in which state-sponsored armies (not necessarily navies) are deprecated entirely, or at least relegated to non-standing status (much like the US constitution originally prescribed).

But even holding this somewhat anarchist view, I can still make a distinction between the incentive stuctures of a for-profit model and mere compensation. If you're so sure-footed about view point, walk us through the deconstruction that makes these things indistinguishable in your mind.


In many ways that is how the US operates now. We spend money so that factories that make military equipment are available, staff is available and trained to use the equipment all in case of, and as a deterrent to a more serious conflict.

The canonical example is that the US purchases hundreds of tanks a year even though there is no real current military need. There are at least a thousand on hand mostly sitting in storage while relatively few are used for training.


If you go down that road, then you would also have to conclude that all prisons are for-profit prisons, since the guards are always paid employees. I think that's misinterpreting or misrepresenting the way "profit" is being used in this sense though.


Is that really an unreasonable conclusion? Even if we ended all private prisons, you could potentially still have unions representing prison workers who would have some of the same lobbying concerns that private prisons possess (lobbying for harsher laws for profit motive, the difference being union member's paycheck and job instead of the companies bottom line). There is also a third group, which is the for-profit companies who are providing services, for a profit, to state owned prisons. These also have the same concerns, as they make more money the more prisoners incarcerated.

Now the three groups aren't equal, but they do exist on the same scale. For profit prisons are, IMO, the worst while the other two groups are of debatable ranking depending upon the size of the relevant organizations.


> you would also have to conclude that all prisons are for-profit prisons

Maybe there's an interesting thing to say here - some people people are against for-profit prisons because they think they encourage imprisoning more people as it creates more profit.

But if you have a non-profit, government-run prison in your local area, you may still be encouraged to imprison more people as it creates more profit for the local suppliers to the prison.

So yeah it doesn't matter if the final user is for-profit if you think there is a risk that profit is driving something you don't want.


> So yeah it doesn't matter if the final user is for-profit if you think there is a risk that profit is driving something you don't want.

This is a gross simplification that erases the very real differences between the incentives of a government vs. a for-profit company. Not only is the government accountable to its electorate, but a government that wants to save money can take a much broader approach - for example by funding access to mental health services - to keep people out of prison. Prisoners are expensive to keep locked up!

In the final analysis, all prisons are non-profit. None of them generate any value. They're all funded with taxpayer money that could be spent elsewhere. It's just that in the case of private prisons that money goes to a company that has no interest in saving the government money by reducing the prison population. Sure they'll try to run the prison efficiently, so they can pocket the difference, but they want as many prisoners as possible to get a bigger check from Uncle Sam.


You may be confusing the legal terms "nonprofit" and "not-for-profit".

In a "nonprofit", the paid staff cannot be paid contingent on the fundraising efforts of the organization. The nonprofit organization has a separate legal existence from the totality of its membership. A "not-for-profit" is identical to the totality of its membership, and may pay its staff or members out of general funds. Nonprofits are 501(c)(3) tax-exempted, not-for-profits are probably 501(c)(7) tax-exempted.

For example, a religious organization might be organized as nonprofit. It has a high priest, several underpriests, and some knights on its payroll. These are all paid predefined salaries and wages. They get paid the same regardless of whether the temple collects a lot of tithes, or none at all. If a nonprofit could not hire paid staff, it would likely have insufficient volunteers to accomplish its stated purposes.

A performing marching band might be organized as a not-for-profit. They go out and sell candy bars stamped with bars of musical notation to raise funds. They can spend the proceeds of the fundraising on themselves, or their staff, but it has to be in furtherance of the organization's stated purpose. They can hire a band director, arranger, and transportation coordinator, and book hotel rooms for themselves. If they raise more funds, they can spend it on themselves, and also give their staff bonuses. But they can't just distribute excess cash; that would be profit. They could buy touring buses and instruments and uniforms that are more expensive and worth more at resale, which would be suspiciously similar to profit, but the rules for "not-for-profit" are more lax than for "nonprofit".


Trade organisations and political parties are not-for-profit too, they just have different financing rules than member societies.


This seems like a fundamental misunderstanding of the definition of profit.


A salary is an expense for the company providing it, but the person receiving it profits from it.


I'd like you to try to claim your salary as corporate "profit" on your next tax return. Tell me how that goes.


"Profit" is a word with several meanings, not all of which are related to tax returns. For example I profit from my education without being able to declare it as corporate profit on my tax return.


Maybe ‘profiting’ was the key bit? Maybe they think it’s ok for the government to build weapon systems but not for civilians to profit from doing that same work? But then can suppliers profit? Is a salary profit for an individual? Not really sure it ‘scales’ as an point of view.


That is the whole point of having armed forces! Armed forces exist to provide achieve foreign policy goals (deterrence, coercion) through the credible threat of its lethality.

WTF? No, just no. The only foreign policy goal the armed forces exist to serve is defense of the homeland. Everything else is a misuses of the military. Just because it's commonplace in this day and age doesn't mean it's OK or that anyone should accept it.


For better or worse, defense of the homeland is not accomplished by literally standing at the US border waiting for someone to step over the line, but by working to neutralize threats and prevent their emergence abroad.


Fair enough, I'll admit the line is a little fuzzy. But there's clearly a point where we've gone way beyond any reasonable notion of "defense" and are engaging in offense, oppression, empire building, etc. And I'd argue that we're way over that line these days.


Serious question: was liberating Auschwitz a misuse of the military?


Given that Germany had declared war on the US, and the liberation of Auschwitz was a direct consequence of defeating Germany, I'll say "no". But that doesn't mean that there's a general principle that "just because something has a desirable outcome, the action itself was proper or justified". Use of force should be reserved for all but the most dire circumstances in general.


That's a seriously naive take.

Militaries exist to project power onto foreign entities. Defense of national territory is but one use for that projected power.

Keeping trade lanes open--such as those through the Straits of Hormuz or the South China Sea--is another use. Enforcing a trade blockade or embargo is another. The size and lethality of your military is measurable proof of your commitment to a particular political issue.


The only foreign policy goal the armed forces exist to serve is defense of the homeland.

Securing access to raw materials is defending the homeland. I live on an island, patrolling the shipping lanes is absolutely something our military should be doing. Standing ready to assist our trading partners on whom we rely for food and fuel is absolutely something they should be doing.


The US military is not really "winning" in Afghanistan but I don't think it's for lack of lethality, so clearly you can improve the military without changing its lethality. Wouldn't a perfect war (or "action") result in all your political objectives being achieved with zero deaths in either side?


Indeed.

The goal of the military is to apply force with as much precision as possible, to preserve the perception of legitimacy for audiences at home and abroad as much as possible.

Being lethal isn’t necessary to apply force; effectively applying non-lethal force is just much harder, so current military doctrine emphasizes lethality against combatants.

But against irregular opponents, whose goal is often to sow hatred for the opposing, powerful military because of their heavy handed tactics, being able to consistently and safely apply non-lethal force would arguably improve military effectiveness.


even with the internet today we don't see. maybe vr will give us a key to end the suffering.


> If you do not believe that people should profit from increasing the lethality of the military, then you do not believe in the utility of having a military.

Alternative: You can believe that circumstances dictate if the military is doing good or bad things. If the military is doing bad things, it is a reasonable argument to oppose them. Clearest example is Yemen.

A less clear and debateable example is: the excessive size of the US military may cause other countries like Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran to build up their own militaries to defend themselves when they would otherwise reduce their military spending. In some cases, mutual disarmament can work, however, it hasn't been tried sufficiently hard (e.g. USA hasn't ever proposed reducing its number of aircraft carriers by treaty, so carriers require asymmetrical warfare capability in order to deter aggression from USA).


Horrible things are happening in Yemen, but I’m not sure why you say it’s a clear example of something the [implicitily, US?] military is doing that is clearly bad.

I say this as someone who has ranged from medium to full-throated opposed to essentially every adventure undertaken by the US military and CIA in the past 50 years or so.

The militants on both sides seem really bad in Yemen.


If both sides are bad, then helping either side accomplishes nothing good unless it ends the war sooner. If the side you support is enforcing a blockade and causing harm to civilians, that is a bad thing while it lasts.

In reality, the Saudis have no realistic plan to win in Yemen, so helping them will not end the war anytime soon. In the meantime, Yemen has the worst famine in the last 100 years.


It is perfectly consistent for example to believe that it is OK to have a military, but not to do any R&D in the private sector. That is what this guy is advocating.


Edit: first comment was applied on the wrong thread, oops!

I agree that engineering lethal tools only by people directly employed by the military is one possible way to make this argument internally consistent.

Another way is to just decide that non-lethal force is a useful and legitimate tool for the military.


So you think we should duplicate R&D that's already happening in the private sector and increase taxpayer costs?


I agree. Even if your doctrine is purely defensive you show develop in efficient, profit seeking framework. Question the doctrie, not the efficiency.


No, I believe the military should exist but shouldn’t be too good at its job. If the US president knows that 3,000 American soldiers will die doing something, it will make the calculus of doing it very different than if only 3 soldiers would die. This may actually save lives overallx


> No, I believe the military should exist but shouldn’t be too good at its job. If the US president knows that 3,000 American soldiers will die doing something, it will make the calculus of doing it very different than if only 3 soldiers would die. This may actually save lives overallx

That's a really silly idea. A military that's bad at its job is a military that can't act as an adequate deterrent and can't defend its country or its allies. You might as well just save the money and disband most of it, and let the countries who kept competent militaries have their way with you and your allies.


That's a REALLY bad idea. Shooting yourself in the foot is a perfect analogy here.


So because we have a military we should maximize everything:

1. When going to work we should be strip searched - that's definitely maximizing the military power.

2. We should all be required to fight in military campaigns at the age of 18 and stop when we are 65, that is definitely maximizing the military.

3. We should bomb all other countries on this planet until there is no one left, because that is maximizing the deadly force of the military.


I wonder if an argument could be made that this violates the 4th amendment right to be free from unseasonable search. Collecting your travel movements automatically without cause might apply. It is an interesting problem because there is no expectation of privacy in public. If you venture into public the police or anyone can stake you out and take pictures of you. Devices that do this are just an efficiency increase. The true root of the issue might be whether the government has a right to collect information about you at all. Before taxes about 100 years ago they really had no reason to.


This is no different than a spotter LEO or witness recognizing you from a mugshot or from video surveillance. It's just that it's done with EVERYBODY now.


But scale is an important difference in legality and morality.

Consider the following example. Calling someone to ask them on a date is normal acceptable behavior. Doing it 20 times an hour, 3 hours a day, every day, quickly becomes immoral and illegal.


> Calling someone to ask them on a date is normal acceptable behavior. Doing it 20 times an hour, 3 hours a day, every day, quickly becomes immoral and illegal.

Not if you're calling different people, totally legal.


At some point it has to change from legal to illegal. That is, with n calls then you're still legal but that n+1th call makes you a felon. What is n?

What is n for facial rekognition?


k (number of takes) does not matter. r (number of uses) does.


The US supreme court ruled that putting a GPS device on a car constituted a search [1]. People at the time were making the same argument you were.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_v._Jones


constitutional rights (and a culture that enshrines them as sacred) is just one layer of protection for civil liberties. The other, Often overlooked layer is the fact that running a dystopian state is uneconomical. For better or worse this is the logic used by gun advocates, but it should also apply to other areas.

technology can make it feasible to scale repression like never before. facial recognition, big data, centralized Electronic banking are all enormously powerful tools in the wrong hands. the guns of the 21st century are those made by the subversive cypherpunk. cryptocurrency and encrypted chat come to mind. In China the number one tool to oppose state censorship is not protest, its a vpn.

at the end of the day if amazon doesn't do this someone else will. so long as the tech is possible the gov will get their hands on it, and so far as the tech errodes civil liberties it eventually will be used to do so.

Amazon can only hold back the tide for so long.


"at the end of the day if amazon doesn't do this someone else will"

"If Amazon doesn't fuck over people someone else will, so who cares" is a shit argument.


"if amazon doesn't fuck people over someone else will"

yeah i said that.

"so who cares"

no i didn't say that.

I said the best defense isnt the benevolence of corporations willing to say no to gov contracts on principal. the best defense is a populace able to subvert these technological systems of oppression. For facial recognition this means adversarial patches. for Internet censorship this means VPNs. in other cases it means encryption and cryptocurrency.


Thanks for responding kindly to a not so kind comment - sorry.

Your point does make a lot of sense. It sucks we live in this world where we have to operate as if our own government is an adversary. Technologically its very sound to operate in this way, but at best that means citizens in an arms race vs. an all-powerful government with infinite money and resources. In the long run, we will lose that race. For example:

Use masks/patches to circumvent facial recognition? Govt. outlaws those, builds better tech.

Use cryptocurrency? Govt heavily monitors crypto exchanges, ties them back to your identity (this is already happening! - coinbase requires SSN and identity verification), defeating the point.

The only way to really win then is to demand our government, which is supposed to have its citizens interest at heart, actually does. No amount of tech can beat the govt because the govt eventually gets access to that tech & talent too, plus a police force and authority to make laws. The only solution is to have them on OUR side.


Personally, I see it as the opposite side of the same argument people use about drugs - that simply banning things doesn't work, motivated people will find another way to obtain them. There is no one more motivated and persistent than the US Government... Even if all the US tech firms join together and refuse to sell to them, the US is not the only country on Earth with tech companies making innovations in this area.

So in that sense, yes, they'll keep looking and someone else absolutely will. As someone pointed out below, the real solution is to have them lobby the US Government to give up their pursuit, anything else is just a delaying tactic.


People who don't think that the NSA already has technology that even casinos use have their heads in the sand.


I also firmly believe that is true and we’re making a big deal out of absolutely nothing with these kinds of open letters.


Even if all you gained was a delay, which I certainly don't believe is true[1], then it would still be a big win.

[1] their tech would most likely be much inferior, and when the likes of Google/Amazon/Facebook/etc. have to choose between getting kicked out of countries or providing their tech to authoritarian governments, then they usually pick the latter.. because profits is more important than the imprisonment and death of millions.


Man, this argument is so dumb indeed...

Even dumber than the "Hey, why should we care about the environment since a few countries can decide not to"


The argument I think you’re alluding to is that rather than employees petitioning Amazon not to sell the government facial recognition technology, they should petition for Amazon (among others) to lobby government to restrict its use (data retention limits would be a start, I guess).

If nothing else, that would probably be more effective.


what I'm saying is we should assume that whatever mass surveillance mechanisms the government is trying to buy, it will eventually buy and whatever legal safeguards there are to protect us will eventually fail.

what I'm calling for is the individual to be "armed" with adversarial patches or whatever other tool it is that confounds facial recognition sytems. the only thing which is long term effective is a population which can and does resist. VPNs, encryption, cryptocurrency, and a bunch of other tech (existing and under research) will be the safeguard when all else fails.


All well and good until you get visited by men with guns for breaking the law.


if the gov has to physically send someone with guns to someones door to enforce a law, the economic feasibility of enforcing the law has already shifted massively away from the passive data scoop of a mass surveillance system. Why hasnt the gov won the war on drugs by just busting down every door?


I'm reasonably sure that it's enough to imprison a small number of dissidents to drastically reduce the number of people using surveillance countermeasures. Making examples of dissidents worked reasonably well for all kinds of oppressive governments.


Then you need media and potentially a sizable revolution on your side. Lawyers too.


Seemed to work out alright for Cliven Bundy.


It's simply not inevitable. I'm so tired of this rhetoric. "it's going to happen anyway, so give up". No, it's not going to happen if you actively oppose it.

For example, cops in Europe cannot execute crawling, begging, unarmed people. And if they try, they won't be getting away with it. Guns exist, cops exist, and guess what, cops shooting people doesn't exist. Why? Because society is an active thing, and if a society opposes a behavior (including the usage of tools, like amazon's rekognition) they can stop it.


I think there's more to it than actively opposing - in Ireland deaths at the hands of the cops are rare, and there's a huge fuss when one happens ... but that's more a manifestation of the norms of Irish society than anything to do with active opposition to police brutality. It's more - if police brutality is rare then there's not much point in becoming a cop if you're a brute


This mechanism reinforces the societal norms that created it, like many others. If the Irish didn't intensely oppose police brutality, more brutes would enter the police force, leading to higher incentives for brutes to join the force. It looks like a self-amplifying loop but it works towards society's demands.


> The other, Often overlooked layer is the fact that running a dystopian state is uneconomical.

How so?

Only example I can think of is China’s Social Credit system denying loans and traveling permissions to people with a low score - where said score is dependent on your compliance with the whims of the CCP; instead of being dependent on the credit worthiness of the person.

Said person won’t be able to grow his/her business as effectively, reducing his/her company’s competitiveness.


iirc the stasi employed half the population to report on the other half of the population. Thats a lot of wasted money and labor. It simply isn't a sustainable system.

Chinas social credit is a perfect example of what I mean. technology is making it more and more practical to actually enforce restrictions on civil liberties down to the granular level.


Has been uneconomical? Again, it takes a large, sophisticated computer network to track a person's Social Credit.


you are right and when the public has their own sting rays, their own license plate trackers, and their own facial recognition systems it will be a crazy world indeed. As these systems grow and learn more about people they will become increasingly powerful. Imaging a world where one mistake could follow you around for ever. You take a photo while in public and your facial recognition app detects someone in the background. Of course after you subscribed for 9.99$ you can access information about people detected. The person detected was in the news for assaulting his wife. He was arrested and did a year in jail and did his time and changed his ways and regrets ever doing it. But the facial recognition does not forget what you did 10 years ago. My girlfriend was acting weird, I am going to be insecure and see where she went. Good thing we all have internet connected dashcams taking real time license plates. I better subscribe to the license plate tracking service for 9.99$ and now I can see that when she said she was in class her car was actually spotted 50 miles away. The future will be different.


The public is going to have their own armed flying drones too eventually. The future is going to be so incredibly cyberpunk.


Flying drones are really fragile. Drone countermeasures are what the public needs.


The FAA and ATF won't permit that.


The feds don't permit marijuana smoking either. How's that going?


This employees from big companies protesting cause news like this to appear here, so it was not a waste

- part of the people read about this

- other developers will get inspired so we can see more developers speaking against this.


> technology can make it feasible to scale repression like never before. facial recognition, big data, centralized Electronic banking are all enormously powerful tools in the wrong hands

What would be the "right" hands?


Presumably those that wouldn't use it. If we accept that those technologies have upsides, then the "right hands" would be those that don't take advantage of the downsides.


I think its mostly just a political statement - that these workers don't like such technology being used for immigration control whilst President Trump is in office.


Don't focus on profit, say the employee who focus on his pay.

The real reason why people work at Amazon is because the pay is better, or the perks are better than the other jobs they applied to. If they go see their boss in order to negotiate a rise, they don't want to hear "sorry, no rise for you, but you should be happy, we didn't sell our product to the police".

The vast majority of employees are motivated by their pay. And in order for them to get paid, their company has to make money. They want their boss to make them rich, and this is what their boss is doing by putting profits over people, and that's why they are still there.

There are a few people who care more about the cause their work serve than money, they are often found in nonprofits, much less so in tech giants.


Money is most definitely not the only thing employees care about.

When you're picking a job you care about location, stability, company culture, hours, vacation policy, etc.

I know plenty of people who have taken lesser paying jobs for a large variety of reasons and morality is definitely one of them. If you're against the death penalty then it's a bit hard to justify working a court job that puts people on death row.

You, personally, may only be focused on your pay but that doesn't mean the vast majority of people are.

Glassdoor certainly hints that this is not true for most people. [1][2]

[1] https://www.glassdoor.com/blog/salary-happiness-research/

[2] https://www.glassdoor.com/research/more-money-change-value-a...


Maybe this particular instance is a bad example, but if it were a private enterprise doing similar unethical things, it would be the role of the government to make it illegal for technology to be used in a way that discriminates against people. And in turn, the governments power should be limited in the same exact way.


When it comes to enabling domestic surveillance there is too much focus on Amazon/Google/etc and too little focus on the voters and city governments that seem to be perfectly ok with their police departments engaging in this sort of crap.

This is like blaming whatever company makes M113s when they wind up in the hands of local police.

Now, I don't consider Amazon or the bureaucrats who are rubber stamping the paperwork for APCs to be blameless but they're definitely not the root cause. The fact that there is a domestic market for this crap it the root of problem.

This is also something that voters have a lot of power to chance because it's a city/town level issue and while it's getting cheaper all the time implementing a surveillance state still is still expensive so there's an avenue to drum up bipartisan support for not doing it.


Hopefully my opinion is not controversial but the tech behind this is really cool. It is equally easy to imagine a future where this tech is helpful and beneficial for all society. It is also equally easy to imagine a dystopian future where this tech is used by evil authoritarian governments. I am personally very conflicted on this issue because the tech is really cool (actual big data machine learning/CV) but can be used extremely unethically at the same time. It's like a razor sharp double-sided blade.


But you’re not describing a double sided blade (that “cuts both ways”), you’re saying that sword making is cool.


How is it not a double sided blade.

Better surveillance would catch and/or possibly stop car thieves, bike thieves, muggers, vandals, robberies, some rapes, life threatening drivers, hit and run drivers, bad cops.

I get that there's no magic wand to make sure the tech is only used for good but that's true of pretty much everything. Knives can be used to cut food or to stab people.


To follow up on this, I actually had a philosophical debate with myself about the following statement: "Anything that can be used for good, can be used for evil."

The point I'm trying to make is that by inventing something "good", you can always use it for "evil" by witholding it from someone. You invent a new medicine to cure cancer? Give it to the highest bidder and leave those who can't pay for it to die, this could be seen as "evil" in my eyes.

I haven't studied philosophy so I'd love some pointers to authors who touch upon this subject or whatever its called.


I applaud the authors of this letter. It's an open question whether an open, democratic society can exist in the world of computational media. If it can, we'll either need a well-educated citizenry or a benevolent oligarchy of people who are skilled, knowledgeable, and wise in the use of computers. We have done a lousy job of ethical political leadership so far, preoccupying ourselves with profitably dismantling what's left of the old paradigm. I would love to see more folks in tech running for office.


When I picture a person in tech successfully running for office, I imagine precisely someone who has excelled at "profitably dismantling what's left of the old paradigm". Unfortunately, technical ability, business savvy, ability to understand social, political and bureaucratic systems in motion and strong, reasonable ethical convictions are all mostly orthogonal and rare qualities.


I am of the opinion that facial recognition technology is a good tool to produce and sell to the police provided it is burdened with significant regulation to prevent abuse. this includes short term expiration of all imagery gathered, access by public warrant only, and full public auditing.

the reason I am of this view is that if can reduce the impact of the police on innocent people the better and I think that a system which can eliminate people as suspects is the true value here. anything that stops the nonsense or need of no knock warrants and other brutality the police have been caught doing.

the face id tech should work both ways, identify the police and policed.


>The letter also contained demands to kick Palantir, the software firm that powers much of ICE’s deportation and tracking program, off Amazon Web Services

The number one thing that will make large companies reject cloud computing is any hint that why will be kicked off because their legal business goes against the mores of the US West coast tech workers. If Palantir gets kicked off, how long until these same workers call for banning Boeing. A lot of these large conglomerates have at least a division that is involved in the defense industry.

A final point. If you think that facial recognition is too dangerous to sell to police, why are you selling this dangerous technology to corporations where the potential for abuse is still there but with less oversight? Also, if. the police can’t buy this technology, they will buy the service from a middle man that buys it from Amazon.


Kicking a high-profile account like Palantir off of AWS would probably have a domino effect which would result in pretty much every big player moving to custom data centers (or preparing a plan-b just in case it happens to them).


I mean people used to have data centers before.. and most big players already do have their own data centers.


Corporations are overseen by the government. The government is in the unique position of having the monopoly of force. If a company turns bad, the government protects us. If the government turns bad, things get very bad.


I doubt that any of the four sentences above are true in reality.


I disagree. When the government turns bad, it is potentially an extremely dangerous scenario which pales in comparison to a corporation being unethical. A corporation cannot bomb your house.


cough Pinkertons cough


What is pinkertons?


Back in the day if you were a factory boss and the workers wanted to unionise, you would phone Pinkertons and they would send thugs to violently assault any union members. This is what they called “private detectives”.


I don't know why you got down voted here that is the hidden aim of some far left groups (an I mean this in the European terms)

You can see this in motions passed at the Uk's labour party conference and some trade unions on the surface its about green jobs "yay" but the real aim is to cut the nuke and defence industries


Stopping facial recognition tech is not the solve. The problem is surveillance - that’s what we ought to address.


Agreed.

Software doesn't run oppressive surveillance states. People run oppressive surveillance states.


Thats similar to "guns dont kill people, people do". But the more guns are available the more people are being killed. Similar with this story, the more the facial recongition technology evolves (without ethical considerations) the more the surveillance states accomplish their jobs


Are you sure your premise is accurate? There are consistently more murders in cities throughout the US where gun ownership is heavily restricted or de-facto banned -- Chicago, DC, etc.

Out in the wild west, where there are more guns, there are fewer killings (per capita and absolute).


Thus absolving the people who are building the surveillance state, some nice self serving logic.


The technology that makes up the surveillance state can be used for good and evil.

Your bank can profile you in order to detect someone who isn't you trying to commit fraud by pretending to be you or the ATF can kick down your door and shoot your dog because you made the mistake of buying fertilizer in bulk and renting a truck to go pick it up.

I used to work on tech that could be very useful for someone trying to drop bombs. Our implementation was part of a package that was used defensively, mostly to give the guys on the ground a heads up if someone was speeding toward their checkpoint (go watch some ISIS VBIED videos if you think a few seconds heads up isn't a huge help).

I can shoot someone who breaks into my home (or better yet, nobody breaks into my home when it's common knowledge that most people have the ability to shoot back) or I can shoot someone for illegally dumping a mattress in my alley.

How you use technology really does matter a lot more than the tech itself.


I think it's important to note this person has to remain anonymous just to voice their concerns about the their employer

> This person, who has spoken with me on the condition that their name not be revealed for fear of professional retribution

This is not how an workplace environment should be. Don't one of Amazon's leadership principals talk about being vocally self-critical?

Yet they drive such a fear mongering culture where unless you're making soft complaints you have to be silent or anonymous for fear of being fired.


This is pretty common for large enterprises. They have an official PR mouth and any public communication regarding the company which doesn't first pass the PR filter is often a fireable offense, even if it's all positive and puts the company in a good light. If Amazon talks about being vocally self-critical, they almost certainly mean in the context of internal improvement, not talking freely to the press. Even if employees try raising issues internally at first, most companies won't take kindly to an employee going public. Please note that I am not defending Amazon, simply saying that this is bog-standard and not surprising.


I think there's a difference between speaking up internally and bad-mouthing your employer in public (especially to the press).

I can't think of any company that would let that slide.


You would consider this article bad mouthing amazon?

The way I interpret 'bad mouthing' is saying things which are false, or misrepresenting what Amazon is does.

I don't think the author made any misrepresentations of what Amazon is doing with their involvement but rather bringing to light that employees do not agree with their policies, that to me anyways is in a different category than bad mouthing.


450 Amazon employees delivered a signed letter to Bezos stating their opposition to the program. Maybe this person is just a coward.


As a personal investor I hold a few Amazon stocks (yes, not much, but I have a small bet on Amazon).

Nevertheless, I see a huge risk to doing this kind of business. Short term there might be profit, but long term it hurts your brand with consumers and erodes trust.

A consumer dependent company like Amazon should avoid getting into ethical issues. Because it limits long term growth.

At least that's my two cents.


>but long term it hurts your brand with consumers and erodes trust

In crazy circles maybe. I'm not seeing any sort of backlash against the military as Americans generally have a very positive view of it.


I think it's disingenuous to call anyone opposed to persistent surveillance and the military "crazy". There are numerous reasons people would be opposed to those institutions and practices. And the more abused those things are, the more people will likely oppose them.


>I think it's disingenuous to call anyone opposed to persistent surveillance and the military "crazy"

I didn't label people who are against 'persistent surveillance' as crazy. I don't know why you attributed that to me. Though I will state that there is nothing wrong with an American company providing services to the American government. If you hate 'persistent surveillance' look to Congress, not contractors.

To extend my point to the military, it is unreasonable to label an American company providing services to the American military as intrinsically unethical.


In the long run the US isn't the only market.

> I'm not seeing any sort of backlash against the military as Americans generally have a very positive view of it.

That might be true. But the military is many things, serving is in many ways honorable, creating weapons from behind a desk -- not so much.

Regardless, in the long run we are likely to see the end of armed conflicts. Investment in military tech will likely drop. That might take 20 years, or it might take 200 years.

But war doesn't create economic growth, why bother getting involved?


I may have a slightly bent view on this... the technology exists, is being created, and is getting commoditized. Why increase the cost to taxpayers?

As to increasing lethality, wouldn't this in effect be decreasing the risk of collateral deaths?

The bigger issue to me is probably unsupervised police usage at a local level. That said, the tech exists and will be used. I'd rather it were less costly. We, as a nation (in the US) already spend far more than we should be on the military. I'm in favor of most technology that reduces costs and mitigates risks.

That's not to say that I approve of the use of drones on sovereign soil we are not actively at war with (the country itself, not "terrorism"), without that country's permission. I wouldn't want China, Russia, Mexico or Canada flying armed drones over the U.S. and don't think the U.S. should be doing it either. That doesn't mean I don't think drones should exist. Policy, use and technology are not the same and shouldn't be conflated like this.


This technology is the very definition of dual-use. There’s fundamentally no difference between a tool that can do “cat or not cat” and one for “terrorist or not terrorist”. The only difference is that people using for the latter probably don’t understand its failure modes and are taking its output very, very seriously.


Amazon is in it for the money. Appearing to be socially just is part of the marketing plan. Corporations are as much the problem as governments. But of course most the people here work for corporations.


HN is a forum for startup founders and entrepreneurs.


I thought it was for "hackers" not MBA's


It's owned by a Silicon Valley startup accelerator, so even if HN is for "hackers" (for some arbitrary definition of the same) it will also never not be for MBAs.


can't an mba be a hacker?


If I understand correctly, Amazon employees want Amazon to police the police with respect to ethics? Wouldn't lobbying government and educating the public work better?


I only know about this issue because of these Amazon employees.

So I'd say they were QUITE effective at educating the public by taking this stand. We spend half our waking lives at our workplace, and the places we work are often tremendously powerful. The idea that you shouldn't take action as employees seems like giving up a tremendous amount of opportunity at creating change.


This is where the free market system falls apart. It has no opinion on ethics, only profits. Companies are put together to produce, market and sell surveillance tech to schools, corporates, communities, the police and even nation states.

Individual ethics are meaningless beyond signalling against a system. Individual components may have ethical concerns but the system is incentivized to grow and it has.

Imagine walking into a group of sales or engineering folks celebrating a new deal or release at a restaurant and berating them on 'surveillance and ethics'. That shows you the dissonance of your expectation and the disconnect of ethical concerns from businesses. And the impotence of individual ethics in a system.

The only thing that can counter this are explicit laws against this kind of damaging behavior and rule of law. Individuals are not allowed to do whatever gets them profit, they have to operate within ethical constraints, to advocate businesses not operate in an ethical context and to leave everything to markets is advocating lawlessness. And the system does respond in some cases like in drones, 3d printing of guns. Those are not free for all. Surveillance is a failure of regulation.


> This is where the free market system falls apart. It has no opinion on ethics, only profits.

"We won't sell this technology to anyone who wants to use it to oppress people even though we could make a huge amount of money doing so" seems to suggest otherwise.


That keepaway strategy doesn't work for guns. There's no reason it should should work for other technologies.


[Citation needed]


I strongly disagree. Regulation and a free market can definitely coincide, we don't have to be so absolutist in our economic opinion. Similarly, a nation having welfare and universal healthcare doesn't mean they're communist. It's not one-or-the-other.

Europe has a much freer market than the US, and also has much stronger protections on personal privacy, a la GDPR.

> Individuals are not allowed to do whatever gets them profit, they have to operate within ethical constraints, to advocate businesses not operate in an ethical context and to leave everything to markets is advocating lawlessness.

Most Libertarian thought espouses this belief, and they are all-in on capitalism.

    Capitalism != immorality
You likely believe this from examining the behavior of US companies. The US market is not very "free" at all - it is heavily regulated, with the government propping up unethical, failing, non-innovative corporations.


This effort is wasted. If Amazon doesn’t sell it someone else will (most likely on top of AWS).

If they actually want to see change, they should be asking Amazon to use their clout to lobby the government for strict regulations around facial recognition. Then all agencies would have the same rules and you won’t just have them going to another vendor.


I don't personally have a problem with Amazon selling tech to police or militaries. I would, however have a problem working for Amazon while not realizing that my work is being directly utilized by the military.

If I'm gonna sell out to the war machine, I want to at least make that decision myself ahead of time.


Funny how activist employees don't trust governments and other authority figures, but gladly violate the trust of the hand that feeds them by leaking stories when they don't get their way at work. Happens at AWS, Google, MSFT, ...

AWS is an infrastructure company. AWS' employees suggesting service denial to people with opposing political viewpoints is like asking AT&T to deny phone service to someone based on their politics. Please, take an orientation course on political tolerance, instead of making preposterous & unprofessional demands at work.

No company can rely on AWS if they're at risk of service denial based on politics. Today, AWS might be left leaning, but tomorrow things may change to the other side. Politics is best left out of business


I really hate that 50% of this thread has ran off on a military-related tangent. Could have been a good discussion about facial recognition, morality, and authority, but instead, because one looney posted some "super-uber-pro-military" comment, the first 50% of my scroll is related to that one topic.

Will post this in ASK HN another time, but HN really needs some sort of drop down mechanism where we can show/hide a top-level comment's thread at will (mobile & desktop). Makes no sense the way this current setup is.

[edit]

Ruins the UX when I have to scroll aaaallllllll the way down to get to the top level comments. Not saying we should discourage constructive discourse by any means. Just saying we need to better organize how that discourse is reflected, so as to make for a better UX.


You know about clicking on the [-] next to the offending top-level comment, right? Seems it solves that problem.


You can collapse the comments and it's child comments clicking the [-] icon


Also please stop voting to fund these projects. Local and national budgets are way bigger than they need to be as is to provide the basic necessities of society and anything charitable is best handled independently; not through the government.


> Selling this system runs counter to Amazon’s stated values.

This is exactly in line with Amazon's values and past practices.

> Bezos suggested we wait for society’s “immune response.”

Bezos wants to make as much as possible off this until its no good anymore. Operating in the margin of what is acceptable is opportunity, to refashion his famous quote.

I think the author is in some westcoastish bubble of thought that has obscured a fresh view of how Amazon acts. Bezos wants to bring in more cash flow and selling more is how it is done.


It's a little backwards. You're not actually making the military more lethal by selling them facial recognition tech. You are making them more accurate. Right now, an 18-25 year old looks at a (often) blurry video and tries to say if something is a weapon. With visual recognition technology, you actually decrease the false positives. Same with police. You're reducing the false positives inherent with human intervention in an already established system.


While ideally that may be the case machine learning is infamous for its false positives even without malicious actors causing toy turtles to be seen as rifles. Even if it has advanced enough to not see desert landscape photos as nudity.

Relying on inaccurate information is more dangerous not less. Not to mention the potential pretextual abuses - drug sniffing dogs are infamous for being trained to be four legged probable cause and field drug tests are a sick joke that makes a mockery of chemistry akin to declaring anything with a PH below 5 is an explosive because picric acid is an explosive.


Purely a question.

What are significant examples of internet related technologies that were if not invented, developed or had their development funded by the US military, if any?

Weren't languages like Ada developed for and financed by the DOD?


Such tools and technologies WILL be used - regardless if it's legal or illegal. They will be used at least in HIDDEN ways by security agencies in - at least - some places on the earth...


>Amazon’s ‘Rekognition’ program shouldn’t be used as a tool for mass surveillance

I agree with this, but it leaves the question: what else is there for it to do?


It’s not for the police. It’s initially for the TSA.


Click bait journalism. Pointless article. Bad journalism tricking you for ad dollars with nonsense.

I am a lead software scientist in the Facial Recognition industry. Amazon's ‘Rekognition’ service is a sad, expensive joke. No body takes that software serious. It is poor quality. It is expensive. It is marketed to the consumer public for Amazon's stock, not for actual serious FR use. It is not appropriate for any serious FR use. It's a toy.

I'll say that again for those in the back: it's a TOY, expensive and hardly works.


You have a lot of experience in the industry, and are able to make your own evaluations of a product based on (I'm guessing) years and years of daily interaction with that domain.

Do you think police departmant purchasers are as well informed as you are?Able to make the same thorough analysis?

What happens when a facial recognition product that you believe performs poorly is used and everyone thinks it performs well? (Hey, we made all these arrests based off this product, it's really working well for us!)


Police departments are not well informed at all; and they are the constant targets of manipulative, fact-free marketing.

Thank gawd they can't just go out and purchase any security / surveillance technology they fancy.

Typically a trial / vetting period is used to test a given system for accuracy as well as ability to integrate with existing systems, plus the over all expense of operating the system over time.

This is when Rekognition falls down, because the accuracy is too wide, the system requires human operators to make up for the lack of accuracy. Then the monthly is expensive to use it is high. Plus there is a perceptual disconnect officers have with the FR system operators required to maintain Rekognition: these operators more or less become FR specialists, with salaries to match, but their actual moment to moment work is closer to a security guard, with their technological knowledge only needed for moments at a time. Police department Directors have a hard time justifying these new roles, in light of the multiple new high expenses required to use Rekognition.


Also, if the FR system performs poorly, it will be offering false positives (the wrong person) and false negatives (it missed the guy) and that just causes the organization using it to disregard it, then abandon using it, and discontinue the contract. It's an expensive waste of time.


The police will get the tech from one company or another. The only question is how much it is going to cost to taxpayers.


I guess Bezos sees this as a strategic play to leapfrog Facebook on knowing who everyone is.


This is FUD - AWS, as opposed to Amazon the e-commerce company, has pretty strict walls between itself and the data of its customers. In these cases the data is owned by the police department and AWS or Amazon won’t be allowed to use or profit from it. Unless there’s some kind of special agreement in exchange for a discount, which I doubt very much.


I wonder if Amazon Go is used to improve Reckognition's computer vision algorithms.


What happens when they combine this with image enhancement powered by deep learning?


Legally, not much, machine learning image enhancement is essentially probabilistically guessing the inbetween pixels of an image, if you use it for actual work and not art you're just asking to have your evidence thrown out of court and run into the same misrecognition problems humans face.


I agree it seems absurd on the face of it (forgive me), but with enhancement techniques going mainstream elsewhere, I could see it happening with surveillance applications. Sure, the false positive rate will go up, but it might help generate legitimate matches that otherwise crack cases even if the recognition footage itself can't be relied upon in an evidentiary capacity.

Speaking of, Pixel 3's new enhancement feature[0] is now mainstream. If these end up mistaken for originals, it opens up an evidentiary Pandora's box. Then again, much poorer quality image enhancement has been around forever now (e.g. "digital zoom").

[0] https://ai.googleblog.com/2018/10/see-better-and-further-wit...


Isn't this already what private companies are doing? Google and Facebook especially have the ability to create huge profiles about your life and activities. They could almost certainly make highly productive models on people's activity.

The concern about facial recognition and deep learning should be about its use in general. Perhaps I am fortunate with where I live. I am far more concerned about technologies use with private companies than I am with the local police.


> in the United States, a lack of public accountability already results in outsized impacts and over-policing of communities of color, immigrants, and people exercising their First Amendment rights.

... in the United States, a lack of public accountability already results in outsized impacts and over-policing of [progressive ingroup], [progressive ingroup], and [progressive ingroup].

> We follow in the steps of the Googlers who spoke out against the Maven contract and Microsoft employees who are speaking out against the JEDI contract. Regardless of our views on the military, no one should be profiting from “increasing the lethality” of the military. We will not silently build technology to oppress and kill people, whether in our country or in others.

Mentions the Maven contract but not Dragonfly, at least not directly.

The worst part is that I don't even disagree with the letter, but I doubt the author has principles as much as he has tribal allegiances. I suspect he would be all-in on this tech if it came with some sort of guarantee it would only be used on "Nazis".


I wish these people wouldn't automatically assume everyone who reads their articles are Americans or otherwise intimately familiar with US institutions. What exactly is it that ICE does that is so bad?


They're a country-wide law enforcement agency for immigration law (ICE: Immigration and Customs Enforcement).

A big issue in our current politics is immigration policy, and there are segments of our population that dislike the current law so strongly they believe it should be go unenforced until the legislature writes an immigration law that they do like.

A lot of the dislike towards ICE is pointing out the harsh reality of any law enforcement agency ("putting people in cages", etc...), and holding that against them in the context of policy they dislike.

Edit: I'm trying to state this plainly for an outsider without showing my hand on our immigration policy. Even for a less-heated topic (e.g., obvious parallels with federal marijuana laws, selective enforcement thereof, and oft-abused LE powers both mundane and created specifically for the war on drugs) I'd frame it the same way.


I see. Thanks for the explanation. That’s a cause I can get behind, it would be handy for myself and my countrymen to be able to enter the US without a visa. Abolishing the equivalent border enforcement agency of Iran, not so much.


A political piece of text (to not say crap)


I would say appeal to the Constitution: facial recognition violates a person's 4th Amendment rights.

But alas, both liberal and conservatives have weakened the 1st Amendment to be "only speech we agree with", the 2nd to "Only squirt guns", and the 5th/14th doesn't apply to accusations from 38 years ago.


>But alas, both liberal and conservatives have weakened the 1st Amendment to be "only speech we agree with", the 2nd to "Only squirt guns", and the 5th/14th doesn't apply to accusations from 38 years ago.

Meaningless hyperbole.


>facial recognition violates a person's 4th Amendment rights.

Does it really though? Has there been any sort of court cases confirming this?


This reminds me of those red light cameras. The only thing they protect is the funds they generate giving out speeding tickets. What's worse is I also got in a wreck once after one of the cameras lit up a dark intersection to take my plates.


I'm decidedly against government surveillance, but it feels like our government are deliberately inviting crime to further the needs and arguments for complete surveillance.

Now that violent attacks against the police and emergency services, stabbings, rape, murder and generally a complete refusal to accept the law become more common, I'm at the point where unsolved crime bothers me more than protecting people's privacy, so it evidently works.

It's ironic how the people who want open borders are creating their own dystopian future, but are too short-sighted to realize how they're being used.

In the end, the borders will be closed and we'll end up with not only a lot more problems and surveillance that none of us wanted, but the net result of people being better/worse off will also be negative.


> Now that violent attacks against the police and emergency services, stabbings, rape, murder and generally a complete refusal to accept the law become more common [...]

Citation needed.


Which one do you want citations for?

These are all publicly accepted problems by now, so I'm not going to do a writeup for all of them just because one person asks for it.

Your downvotes change nothing, by the way. This is not a sinister outlook, it's already happening right now and I'm provably right.

We get more police and they get more permissions, including broader surveillance, and they're looking to adopt tasers like in the U.S. The last few years did this and hardly anyone is arguing it anymore.

The surveillance state you don't want is coming, and you are the reason.


We've banned this account for repeatedly violating the site guidelines and ignoring our many requests to stop.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


OP is asking for citations regarding the rise in crime you referred to. Understand - crime rates have been going down historically. Things are not getting worse, they are getting better. While that doesn't mean everything is OK yes, crime is going down. Therefore, your argument for increased surveillance because of increased crime is wrong.

In short, crime is getting better, not worse, and your argument for increased surveillance is the one given to you by those who already want increased surveillance.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crime_in_the_United_States

https://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2017/dec...

https://www.infoplease.com/us/crime/homicide-rate-1950-2014


I never said that crime as a whole increased, but the violence reached a whole different quality. You (deliberately?) misinterpret comments you don't agree with.

Stabbing people -which was never a big issue- has become very common, for example. Kicking people when they're down and out etc. Hurting people for fun. Someone I knew was stabbed and murdered for no reason at all. Not even a robbery. Just killed.

Even in fights, there used to be some unwritten rules of respect and common sense, but they're gone. The people who are responsible for most of these violent crimes brought this crap with them.

It's gotten to the point where knives are forbidden in certain areas and knife bans are under consideration.

I'm talking about Germany, by the way. How about you are a bit more open-minded and stop assuming other users' nationalities?


>I never said that crime as a whole increased,

> generally a complete refusal to accept the law become more common

I definitely read your original comment as suggesting that, in general, lawlessness was on the rise.


Until you are a victim of a crime and facial recognition helps to find the perpetrator and you suddenly change your mind.

> The letter also contained demands to kick Palantir, the software firm that powers much of ICE’s deportation and tracking program, off Amazon Web Services

And... I can tell this post is going to be west-coast extreme liberal biased.


>Until you are a victim of a crime and facial recognition helps to find the perpetrator and you suddenly change your mind.

Appeal to fear. Why is it you think that justification doesn't work for illegal search and seizure?


In the same way, not wanting to let the police have this technology due to concern of surveillance is appealing to fear.

People forget that, in the USA at least, the police investigate and pursue crimes that have already been committed. They do NOT pursue crimes that have not happened and do NOT scan for people who have not committed a crime. As you all should know, license plate scanners, for example, are looking for specific plates of people who have already committed crimes.


And if your daughter was murdered, you want them dead.

That is not how we made our legislation work.


> That is not how we made our legislation work.

Wasn't it, though? I mean, laws are ultimately decided by vote (directly or indirectly). People are free to agree or not with death penalty, but it's hard to deny that being personally affected by a crime can influence our opinions on the subject. That's why death penalty still exists in several states.

Same with facial recognition tech. Despite the legitimate concerns about potential abuse from a government, people can acknowledge that it is an extremely valuable tool for crime investigation and thus law enforcement.

So in the end, it all depends on how bad people want an efficient police, and that can definitely depend on our individual experiences with crime.


Most people want justice, thus the police to find the murderer, arrest them, and bring them in front of a judge or jury for their due punishment.

Limiting the polices technology and resources is an argument that doesn't make sense to me. Especially coming from open source advocates. Smells of hypocrisy.


I am a great believer in Sir William Blackstone's view in 1765: "It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer". Particularly with the state of our prisons and the utter ruination of an innocent life, even if later identified as a miscarriage of justice.

Innocent until proven guilty, and police gathering evidence of a crime and scene to find, catch, interview and potentially prosecute a suspect. If that proves more expensive, spend enough on policing to achieve adequate deterrence and conviction rates.

The problem with any mass trawl or systemic facial recognition is it makes it utterly trivial to abuse the rights of those who happen to be in a minority group, or to actively look for crimes with which to persecute someone disliked. This is policing the wrong way round.

I hold just the same views about traffic enforcement. Cameras and automatic fines worse than a police officer in a patrol car. The officer can let someone off with a chat if there were clear extenuating circumstances - cameras can't. The officer can catch bad or dangerous driving that happens to be at legal speeds - cameras can't.

I see no hypocrisy here.


Open source has nothing to do with data. If you think open source people don't care about privacy you know nothing about open source.

People want justice, but they also want individual liberties to not be violated. Particularly in the US the Constitution is filled with stuff to keep a government seeking 'justice' from getting out of control.


>Limiting the polices technology and resources is an argument that doesn't make sense to me. Especially coming from open source advocates. Smells of hypocrisy.

You know we have the technology to monitor people location and conversations in real time, we can put those monitoring bracelets on everybody , promise not to use them until a crime is happening and we want to see who was where.

This will solve crimes but it gives a big oppressive tool to the state, is your point that all possible tech should be used if is not too expensive so we reduce crime to 0? This may mean cameras on private properties, mandatory personality checks, social score etc.


Yes, it kind of does. See, you want tech in place that can easily turn into mass-surveillance to catch a criminal you have been a victim of. And you want him punished. So, for both things are laws i. place, exactly to get these emotions out of the picture.


[flagged]


Since when is "limiting the powers of the state" a "leftist narrative"? Because that what it boils down to.


The argument usually is "this will be used to target minorities/dissidents/illegal immigrants"


The typical 'leftist narrative' is a nanny state over-using its power to censor alt-right to protect 'minorities/dissidents/illegal immigrants'.

I'd place 'less government power' as more of a rightist narrative (see gun control for example)


It's very ironic that you're defending China's position on mass surveillance tech while complaining about leftists.


Best thing to do about it is limit the reach of your message with a paywall.


Yeah, better waste public $$$ by forcing government to create in-house solution


But, it will be open-source, which is good.

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