Every day it seems like we’re taking one step closer to the Orwellian nightmare of constant surveillance and Amazon is one of the main companies leading the charge. Earlier this month it was revealed that some employees were being given unfiltered access to the company’s Ring security cameras and could watch customers live inside their homes if they had their email address. And now a new report from BuzzFeed News is suggesting that Amazon is requiring sellers to record videos of their face and store these videos on Amazon’s servers.
According to the report, a seller in Vietnam was asked to enable his webcam and record a five-second video of his face when creating a new Amazon seller profile. He was not given an option to decline the video submission. During the video submission process, Amazon said the video will be encrypted and stored for identification purposes. After uploading the video, the seller said he cannot find the video in his seller profile and cannot find an option to remove it.
Buzzfeed News reached out to Amazon and:
- It did not dispute the authenticity of this facial verification process
- It did not provide any further details on why it’s requesting video verification, when the video verification process began, what it does with the videos, or which regions video verification is being requested in
- It did not say if the videos are being processed by its Rekognition facial recognition technology
- It did not say if sellers can remove these videos from Amazon servers
- It did not say whether it has updated its seller agreements and privacy policies to address the collection and storage of biometric data
- It did not say if this data is being used for any other purposes outside seller verification
So, what we do know is that some sellers are being asked to provide facial verification videos, these videos are stored on Amazon’s servers, and this process is mandatory. Amazon says these videos are encrypted but considering the way it treats videos from Ring security cameras (which are even more sensitive than these facial verification videos), that’s hardly reassuring.
Other than that it’s a complete void. Amazon could be using these videos to enhance its Rekognition technology, it could be pairing these videos with other personally identifiable information, it could be sharing these videos with third parties. We just don’t know.
Since there are relatively few laws governing the use of facial recognition technology and Amazon isn’t being very forthcoming with how these videos are being used, it’s a rather creepy and disconcerting development.