The future is now! And it's kind of scary.

Amazon's come a long way from being the little online bookstore that could. Now, in addition to delivering your packages, running your smart home features, and telling you what to wear, it may also soon be helping the government track every move you make.

A few items on that list are a little creepy, but it's really that last one that's setting off red flags with people and groups like the ACLU concerned with civil liberties.


In 2016, the company launched Amazon Rekognition, its flagship image recognition software. The basic premise was that you could take a picture, run it through the software, and it'd respond by telling you what the picture was. The example used in the rollout was a photo of a dog. Awww!

Fast forward to 2018, and Rekognition has gotten a few upgrades. It's even being tested out by a handful of police departments. The company boasts about the technology's ability to detect, track, and analyze photos or videos of people. They refer to it as "high-quality person tracking" and "activity detection."

"Activating a city-wide facial recognition system could be as easy as flipping a switch," the ACLU's Matt Cagle warns in a YouTube video. "Body cams were designed to keep officers accountable to the public, but facial recognition turns these devices into surveillance machines."

The ACLU has been trying to sound the alarm about the dangers of facial recognition, and it might have just found a way to get the attention of people who can help: Congress.

It's unlikely a profit-driven company like Amazon will simply choose to abandon this admittedly impressive and lucrative tech on its own. Even if it did, another company would surely swoop in with its own version. To protect people from the obvious abuses that can come with far-reaching surveillance, it's going to take an act of Congress to put restrictions on how this technology can be used.

To prove a point, the ACLU ran photos of every member of Congress through the Rekognition software, comparing it with criminal databases. What they found was shocking.  

The analysis incorrectly matched the faces of 28 members of Congress with mugshots.

In other words, not only might this new software be used as the backbone of a new surveillance state, but it also might flag you as a criminal. That's not ideal! Thankfully, it caught congresspeople's attention, with a number of senators and representatives issuing statements about the experiment.

The ACLU's study also revealed another issue with the technology: People of color are disproportionately likely to get a false match.

Six members of the Congressional Black Caucus were falsely matched to mugshots. Despite that just 20% of members of Congress are people of color, 39% of false matches were people of color.

Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Illinois), who was one of the politicians wrongly matched by Rekognition, signed a letter with other congresspeople to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos expressing concerns. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

"It’s not hard to imagine a police officer getting a 'match' indicating that a person has a previous concealed-weapon arrest, biasing the officer before an encounter even begins," the ACLU's Jacob Snow wrote on the group's blog. "Or an individual getting a knock on the door from law enforcement, and being questioned or having their home searched, based on a false identification."

Snow continued:

"An identification — whether accurate or not — could cost people their freedom or even their lives. People of color are already disproportionately harmed by police practices, and it’s easy to see how Rekognition could exacerbate that. A recent incident in San Francisco provides a disturbing illustration of that risk. Police stopped a car, handcuffed an elderly Black woman and forced her to kneel at gunpoint — all because an automatic license plate reader improperly identified her car as a stolen vehicle."

But there are some simple things you can do to prevent facial recognition software from being used the wrong way.

For one, you can join the ACLU's efforts to petition Amazon to do the right thing and stop selling surveillance equipment to the government. You can also donate to the ACLU to help fund its efforts to fight back against government overreach and threats to our privacy.

The most important thing you can do is to call up your representatives at the federal, state, and local levels. Let them know that this is something that concerns you and that you'd like to see action taken to make sure this technology doesn't get misused.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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