Amazon defends Rekognition as a force for good
20 August 2018 11:07 GMT Posted by • Laura Camplisson

Amazon has attempted to counter the recent backlash against its facial identification software Rekognition, by publishing several positive-use case studies.

A post on the Amazon Web Services, Artificial Intelligence blog, highlighted that Rekognition has been crucial in helping Marinus Analytics to reunite trafficking victims with their families.

Marinus Analytics – an organisation founded in 2014 dedicated to using AI to turn Big Data into actionable intelligence – began using the Rekognition service in 2017.

An article on the company’s website from October of last year, claims it immediately made a difference to the results achieved by their flagship software ‘Traffic Jam’. It seems investigators were not only able to increase the accuracy of their searches but also save invaluable time looking for victims likely to move location imminently.  

A quote from Cara Jones, CEO and Co-Founder of Marinus Analytics, states, “as soon as we incorporated Rekognition into the Traffic Jam suite through FaceSearch, we almost immediately started hearing success stories. It has been a critical factor in helping Marinus Analytics find victims”.

This week Amazon published several examples of these success stories. In Northern California, Marinus Analytics were reportedly able to use Rekognition to identify a missing 16-year-old girl being sexually exploited online. Another success story tells of a victim missing for over a year and a detective who had hit a dead end. That is until Rekognition made a positive biometric match with an image not initially recognizable as the victim, due to changed appearance. This led to the identification of 20 more victims of this extremely violent trafficker.

Image: Marinus Analytics

Controversy surrounding Amazon’s Rekognition blew up in May, when the American Civil Liberties Union revealed the service had been sold to US police agencies for public surveillance, prompting an outcry from privacy advocates. The situation was exacerbated when use of the technology to compare US Congress members to a criminal database, received more than two dozen false positives.  

Ultimately, some of Amazon’s own shareholders and employees publicly called for Amazon to stop selling Rekognition to the government.

The recently published case study of Marinus Analytics hopes to show an alternative side to the story. While it does not entirely vindicate Rekognition of its evident limitations, it does go some way to demonstrate that biometric technology such as this, can be used as a force for good.

In other words, as Amazon quote Emily Kennedy, President and Co-Founder of Marinus Analytics, "artificial intelligence shouldn’t be feared by humans because it can enable us to accomplish far more good than would otherwise be possible.”