Last year, Amazon’s facial recognition technology ‘Rekognition’ became subject of big controversy, after it was secretly deployed by Orlando’s police department. This week, news came out that the tech giant is testing facial recognition to verify its marketplace sellers. An Amazon FBA seller supposedly had to submit a 5-second video of his face to create an account and sell services on the platform.
The news first reached BuzzFeed News this week. It may be a new tactic of Amazon to fight scammers that sell through multiple accounts on the platform. Facial recognition could be a way to verify that there are actual people behind individual accounts. In other words, that it’s not the same person creating multiple stores.
Amazon’s Selling Policies and Seller Code of Conduct clearly forbid sellers to have multiple accounts. Having multiple accounts would create unfair competition between sellers with multiple stores and those with just one.
Each new seller, therefore, has to verify its identity by providing several official documents to Amazon. These include a government issued ID, VAT-number, recent utility-bill and a bank statement.
Yet, this set of required documentation still has loopholes. Amazon is said to struggle with many ‘ghost’ accounts, as people have found ways to undermine the system. For example, according to Amazon FBA sellers from China, scammers often pay people to create an account with their own ID.
Another problem that Amazon could be after is the large number of counterfeit products sold on the site. This is harming for Amazon’s reputation. Facial recognition could help to make it more difficult for banned users to create new accounts.
Amazon’s Rekognition technology features more than facial recognition alone. The software is a tool for developers and comes with several functions. These include “pathing” – tracking an object, such as a football, through a video-frame -, finding and reading text in images and videos that is hard to spot with the human eye, and sentiment analysis.
As stated on the company’s website: “Sentiment analysis can detect emotions like happy, sad, or surprised from facial images. The software can analyze live images, send the emotion attributes to a database and create periodic reporting to discover trends.” For example, a shop owner can track changes in emotions of visitors in his store after changing the shop’s decoration.
Implications for Amazon FBA Sellers
The Amazon FBA seller who had to upload the video, asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation from Amazon.
A message stating “We will record a 5-second video of your face”, was showed to him when setting up his account. “The video will be encrypted and stored for identification purpose. To proceed, enable access to your webcam.”
According to seller, there is no option to decline submission of the video during the sign-up process. Also, he later couldn’t find the video back in his profile or a way to remove it.
Amazon neither confirmed or disputed the authenticity of using facial recognition to verify online sellers. The company reacted that “Amazon is always innovating to improve the sellers’ experience.”
Amazon states that “Seller identification is securely stored and used only for identity verification.” However, given Amazon’s dubious use of facial recognition before, I would think twice before providing my biometric data to the company…
What would you do?
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