Three Big Tech Players Back Out of Facial Recognition Market


By John P. Desmond, AI Trends Editor
In the span of 72 hours, both IBM and Amazon backed out of the facial recognition business this week.
It’s a chess match on the geopolitical playing board, with AI ethics and data bias in play.
IBM moved first, closely followed by Amazon.
 (And then two days later Microsoft announced its intention to also exit the market; see below.)
The moves came after demonstrations were held across both the US and the world, in response to police mistreatment of black Americans. Facial recognition software has been called out by privacy and AI ethics groups as having higher error rates for people of color.
New IBM CEO Arvind Krishna stated in a letter to Congress on June 8, “IBM firmly opposes and will not condone uses of any technology, including facial-recognition technology offered by other vendors, for mass surveillance, racial profiling, violations of basic human rights and freedoms, or any purpose which is not consistent with our values and principles of trust and transparency.”
Amazon then announced on Wednesday that it is implementing a one-year moratorium on police use of its Rekognition technology, but it would still allow organizations focused on stopping human trafficking to continue to use the technology.
On its THINKPolicy Blog , IBM posted the letter from CEO Krishna submitted to Congress. It states in part, “IBM no longer offers general purpose IBM facial recognition or analysis software. IBM firmly opposes and will not condone uses of any technology, including facial recognition technology offered by other vendors, for mass surveillance, racial profiling, violations of basic human rights and freedoms, or any purpose which is not consistent with our values and Principles of Trust and Transparency. We believe now is the time to begin a national dialogue on whether and how facial recognition technology should be employed by domestic law enforcement agencies.”
Amazon’s blog release stated in part, “We’ve advocated that governments should put in place stronger regulations to govern the ethical use of facial recognition technology, and in recent days, Congress appears ready to take on this challenge. We hope this one-year moratorium might give Congress enough time to implement appropriate rules, and we stand ready to help if requested.”
Amazon’s move was seen as “smart PR” in an account in Fast Company, which was skeptical that the 12-month moratorium would result in a significant change. Nicole Ozer, the technology and civil liberties director with the ACLU of Northern California, was quoted as stating, “This surveillance technology’s threat to our civil rights and civil liberties will not disappear in a year. Amazon must fully commit to a blanket moratorium on law enforcement use of face recognition until the dangers can be fully addressed, and it must press Congress and legislatures across the country to do...

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