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Report: New York Questioning Amazon Facial Recognition Helped Kill HQ2 Deal

Amazon and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos provides the keynote address at the Air Force Association's Annual Air, Space & Cyber Conference in Oxen Hill, MD, on September 19, 2018. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
CHARLIE NASH

Amazon officials reportedly defended the company’s facial recognition programs during a meeting with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Thursday, just hours before Amazon reversed its controversial deal to base its new “HQ2” headquarters in New York City.

“Three hours before Amazon announced they were dumping New York, the company held a meeting with top government officials that went poorly,” reported POLITICO. “During a closed-door meeting with representatives from Mayor de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s offices in Long Island City, company officials defended their labor policies and facial recognition technology in response to months of public backlash, according to people who were there.”

“And by 11 a.m., a top Amazon official working under Amazon founder Jeff Bezos called de Blasio to tell him the company was about to announce its intention to kill the deal altogether. The decision, which Amazon executives made Wednesday night, stunned those close to the project,” POLITICO claimed. “Even the two company officials dispatched to defend the deal appeared to have no idea it was over.”

On Twitter, journalist Michael Tracey declared, “Final straw for Amazon and Bezos was ‘public backlash’ to their ‘facial recognition technology,’ how dare New Yorkers object to becoming the most invasively surveilled people in human history.”

In a statement to Business Insider, Chelsea Connor, the director of communications for the Retail Wholesale, and Department Store Union expressed, “Rather than addressing the legitimate concerns that have been raised by many New Yorkers Amazon says you do it our way or not at all, we will not even consider the concerns of New Yorkers – that’s not what a responsible business would do.”

Alex Kantrowitz, a senior technology reporter at BuzzFeed News, however, noted that “reversing decisions is part of the culture, baked right into Bezos’s leadership principles,” pointing to a letter which Bezos sent to shareholders in 1997.

“One common pitfall for large organizations – one that hurts speed and inventiveness – is ‘one-size-fits-all’ decision making,” Bezos proclaimed in the letter. “Some decisions are consequential and irreversible or nearly irreversible – one-way doors – and these decisions must be made methodically, carefully, slowly, with great deliberation and consultation. If you walk through and don’t like what you see on the other side, you can’t get back to where you were before. We can call these Type 1 decisions. But most decisions aren’t like that – they are changeable, reversible – they’re two-way doors.”

“If you’ve made a suboptimal Type 2 decision, you don’t have to live with the consequences for that long. You can reopen the door and go back through,” he explained. “Type 2 decisions can and should be made quickly by high judgment individuals or small groups.”

In response to Amazon’s withdrawal from New York, Kimberley Strassel, a member of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board, posted, “Wouldn’t it be refreshing for a big company to deliberately place their operation in a low-tax, low-regulation, right-to-work state–and then used to explain importance of a great business climate? Meaning: Wouldn’t it be nice if big biz embraced/promoted capitalism?”

Amazon’s decision last year to place part of its new headquarters in New York City prompted criticism from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT), and Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who all criticized the $1.5 billion in tax credits, $1.2 billion in tax breaks, and other incentives that Amazon would receive.

“Anything is possible: today was the day a group of dedicated, everyday New Yorkers & their neighbors defeated Amazon’s corporate greed, its worker exploitation, and the power of the richest man in the world,” celebrated Ocasio-Cortez, who had also previously criticized Amazon’z facial recognition technology, “Rekognition,” after it was revealed that Amazon was pitching it to government agencies, including ICE.

Amazon’s “labor policies,” which were also reportedly brought up during the meeting between Gov. Cuomo, Mayor de Blasio, and Amazon officials, have also featured heavily on the news, with reports of hospitalized workers, employees being worked to exhaustion, employees feeling the need to urinate in bottles and trash cans to avoid bathroom breaks, strikes, a female worker living in an Amazon warehouse parking lot, employees on food stamps, and an Amazon internal video instructing “team leaders” how to spot and intimidate union sympathizers.

Currently, Amazon will still go ahead with the second part of its new headquarters, based in Arlington, Virginia.

Amazon will receive $573 million in financial incentives from Arlington, and Virginia will help Amazon fight Freedom of Information Requests (FOIA) by providing the Big Tech company with two days notice of any FOIA filed, “to allow the Company to seek a protective order or other appropriate remedy.”

Charlie Nash is a reporter for Breitbart Tech. You can follow him on Twitter @MrNashington, or like his page at Facebook.

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