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Amazon, Microsoft say they’ll do what’s right on biometrics, but suits raise questions

Amazon, Microsoft say they’ll do what’s right on biometrics, but suits raise questions
 

Amazon and Microsoft have been hit separately with biometric data privacy lawsuits that, if proven in court, would strike at the heart of facial recognition’s biggest weakness — the sense that it cannot be trusted.

Both proposed class actions allege that each company is not obeying Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) by not getting informed consent before collecting, analyzing and storing state residents’ digital likenesses.

Of the two cases, Amazon’s is the more noteworthy.

Andy Jassy, expected to be named the company’s next CEO this fall, has been publicly dismissive of arguments that the company has a primary role in protecting consumers from harm when the biometric identifiers that it harvests are used injudiciously.

In fact, Jassy does not appear to be a fan of Amazon’s voluntary, partial moratorium on selling facial recognition services to law enforcement.

Amazon’s current CEO, Jeff Bezos, announced the one-year moratorium last June, as public opposition grew as AI racial and gender bias became a topic of conversation for people around the world. Bezos and some others involved in facial recognition have pulled back in the hope that legislation can be written to protect their businesses against suits like the two new ones.

According to publisher Law360, Illinois resident Angela Hogan and a minor identified as B.H. last week filed suit against Amazon. Hogan claims that the company scans the facial geometry in all uploaded photos containing faces. This allegedly is true for Prime members using exclusive storage services as well as consumers who stored images on the non-exclusive Photo service.

The images, according to the suit, are being used to improve Rekognition, the facial recognition service that is the subject ofAmazon’s moratorium. BIPA is clear in prohibiting companies from profiting from biometric identifiers collected without consumer consent.

An Uber driver living in Illinois named Mario Pena launched a BIPA-related suit, also last week, against Microsoft.

Pena, who is proposing a class action, claims that Uber drivers are not asked for consent when their digital likenesses are analyzed by the Microsoft facial recognition software that is embedded in Uber’s real-time identification application.

His suit specifically questions his security against fraud and ID theft now that his biometric identifiers are on stored online, beyond his control and without his permission.

Microsoft joined Amazon and IBM last summer in tabling sales of (or plans to sell) facial recognition services to police. All said they would like federal legislation on use of the technology rather than deal with the current incoherent jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction environment.

Microsoft and Amazon, along with Google parent Alphabet, are also facing BIPA lawsuits over their alleged use of a face biometrics training dataset built by IBM.

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