Ex-employee claims Amazon sold facial recognition tech to Russia

Written on 06/08/2024
Taylor Bell

A former Amazon employee has accused the company of selling facial recognition data to Russia, a violation of sanctions imposed by the UK after the invasion of Ukraine.

According to Charles Forrest, Amazon has reached an agreement with VisionLabs, a Russian company that provides facial and object recognition services. The former Amazon employee claims that the deal gave VisionLabs access to Amazon's proprietary facial recognition technology, Rekognition. Forrest claims the negotiations took place under the table. He alleges in the indictment that it all happened "through a shell company believed to be based in the Netherlands."

Charles Forrest claims the company wrongfully fired him in 2023. He says Amazon did this after he raised suspicions of possible wrongdoing, including the sale of facial recognition services to a Russian company. Forrest filed suit against Amazon in an employment tribunal in London this week.

Another alleged wrongdoing by Amazon is its breach of a voluntary suspension of police access to its facial recognition services. The voluntary suspension was supposed to have come into effect after the George Floyd incident.

Amazon has denied the accusation that it sold facial recognition data to Russia. A company spokesperson said: "Based on the available evidence and accounting records, AWS did not sell Amazon Rekognition services to VisionLabs," and also said Forrest's claims about his dismissal were false. The company claims there was "serious misconduct," including missing meetings, not meeting contracted working hours, and not responding to emails.

But the company doesn't deny that it broke its self-imposed restrictions not to provide its facial recognition technology to police. But Amazon clarifies that its "self-imposed suspensions are not legal obligations," so it wouldn't break the law if it did.