Ex-employee claims Amazon sold facial recognition tech to Russia

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A former Amazon employee is accusing the company of selling facial recognition data to Russia. This would represent a violation of the sanctions imposed by the UK after the invasion of Ukraine.

According to Charles Forrest, Amazon reached an agreement with VisionLabs. VisionLabs is a Russian company that offers facial and object recognition services. The former Amazon employee claims the deal allowed VisionLabs to access Rekognition, Amazon’s own facial recognition tech. Forrest claims that the negotiation took place under the table. Everything would have happened “through what appears to be a shell company based in the Netherlands,” he claims in his indictment.

Amazon might have sold facial recognition data to Russia according to ex-employee

Charles Forrest claims that the company unfairly fired him in 2023. He says that Amazon did it after his allegations of potential irregularities. The sale of facial recognition services to a Russian company would be one of these irregularities. Forrest presented the case against Amazon this week to a London employment tribunal.

Another of the alleged irregularities committed by Amazon is the violation of a self-imposed moratorium regarding police access to the company’s facial recognition services. The self-imposed moratorium would have been set after what happened to George Floyd.

Amazon, for its part, denied the accusation of selling facial recognition data to Russia. A company spokesperson said that “Based on available evidence and billing records, AWS did not sell Amazon Rekognition services to VisionLabs.” The spokesperson also said that Forrest’s claims about his firing are false. The company claims that it was due to “serious misconduct” for actions such as not attending meetings, not meeting contractual hours, and not responding to emails.

That said, the company does not deny having broken the self-imposed moratorium on offering facial recognition tech to the police. However, Amazon clarifies that “a self-imposed moratorium does not amount to a legal obligation.” So, they are not breaking any laws by doing so.

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