IBM’s decision to stop offering facial recognition technology is likely to amplify calls for other big technology companies—notably, Amazon—to do the same. As IBM CEO Arvind Krishna said in a letter to several members of Congress, Big Blue’s decision reflected concerns about the technology’s potential use as a tool for mass surveillance and racial profiling.
But even if Amazon followed IBM’s lead and got out of the business, it wouldn’t represent a huge sacrifice for the company. Facial recognition isn’t a big business for Amazon (or IBM). Last year, we reported that Amazon’s cloud division facial recognition service Rekognition had only around $3 million in sales to commercial clients in 2018. While that figure excludes sales to law enforcement and other public agencies, it’s my guess that total sales from the product were still a trivial part of Amazon Web Services’ $25 billion-plus in revenue that year.
The tech publication OneZero has done several stories about how the biggest sellers of facial recognition software are companies most people have never heard of, including NEC and Idemia. A much more meaningful demonstration of tech’s willingness to pull the plug on facial recognition will come when those types of companies act.—Nick Wingfield