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Amazon changes from bare knuckle to brass knuckle in the courts


amazon biometric facial recognition

He officially does not run Amazon yet, but recent actions taken by the company regarding its biometrics policies suggest Andy Jassy‘s ballsy style of tech titanhood precedes his ascension.

Think Illinois’ Biometric Information Protection Act is scary? Not Amazon: It is unconstitutional.

Has arbitration, once the miracle cure for all the little people’s complaints, become more of an operational bunion? Cry to your momma. Amazon has ripped the word arbitration off its sites like a bandage on a hairy appendage. So what.

Taken together, the moves show both corporate flexibility and a willingness to run counter-trend.

At a time when dozens of multinational corporations are taking unprecedented steps to show support for the right to vote in America, Amazon is ready to tell everyone to pound sand about a right to privacy.

MediaPost has found Amazon court documents, filed last month in Seattle, outlining Amazon’s plan to claim, among other things, that BIPA is unconstitutional; that the company’s right to speech rises above a consumer’s right to privacy.

The case in question was launched in Illinois a year ago. In it, a pair of Illinois residents claim that their faces were part of IBM’s “Diversity in Faces” biometric database despite their never giving consent. That collection was used by Amazon, Microsoft and Alphabet to train facial recognition algorithms.

Face-scraper Clearview AI also argues BIPA tramples its First Amendment right to gather, analyze and distribute truthful information.

Amazon is striking a similarly pugnacious pose with its arbitration decision, a reversal of its previous strategy for defending itself from allegations of illegal voice biometrics handling. And even if the move, too, did not have a Goliath v. David storyline, it would be noteworthy. Giving up a tool as heavily used by businesses as arbitration is rare. It could be argued that it is almost innovative.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Amazon has suddenly rewritten its terms of service, giving consumers the right to sue rather than file for arbitration. It is hard to describe the move better than the Journal’s headline: Fine, Sue Us.

The Journal says 75,000 arbitration cases alone reference Amazon’s AI device Echo. Three proposed biometric data privacy class actions were rapidly filed and many more are expected.

Arbitration is viewed by many consumer advocates as a bag of advantages and disadvantages that tends to favor businesses. Amazon is now feeling differently.

The article says Amazon’s own arbitration rules required it to pay all filing fees, which would total “tens of millions of dollars” in the Echo cases.

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