Microsoft Urging U.S. Government To Enact Regulation On Facial Recognition, Citing Abuse

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They paved the way for facial recognition technology, and now the company itself is telling the government to saddle the innovation with regulations and limits. Why? Brad Smith, the current President over at Microsoft (MSFT), recently stated in a blog post that he believes new laws are entirely necessary, given the technology’s “broad societal ramifications and potential for abuse.” CNN says he and the company are pushing for lawmakers to act fast.

Facial recognition has been developing rapidly. A computer’s ability to identify a person’s face from a camera or by scanning a pre-snapped photograph is highly sought after technology in various industries from private businesses like hotels and casinos, to social media, and law enforcement. Even logging into a mobile device is as simple as staring at the camera for less than 30 seconds, and you’re in. Google, Apple, and Microsoft are the big dogs in the field of development for facial recognition and selling these systems. However, while wildly exciting and convenient, the accuracy of such systems and technologies varies.

In fact, an MIT research group found that women and people of color are identified with far less accuracy in what they are referring to as algorithm bias on the MIT Media Lab. The use of facial recognition technology is often cited by supporters of the technology as providing further improvement to safety for companies and customers alike. Civil rights groups and advocates, however, are seeming worried. They want that the technology infringes upon privacy, allowing for illegal surveillance and monitoring. The room for error, the civil rights groups state in their argument, is too broad because still-emerging technology can result in false identifications.

People walk under an information sign which make passersby aware of a facial recognition technology test at Berlin Suedkreuz station on August 3, 2017 in Berlin, Germany. The technology is claimed could track terror suspects and help prevent future attacks. Featured image credit: Steffi LoosGetty Images

Even creators such as Microsoft are now showing to be wary of where the use for facial recognition is going globally. Smith also pointed this out when writing the article for Microsoft.

“Facial recognition raises a critical question: what role do we want this type of technology to play in everyday society?”

Just last month, the company went under scrutiny for its relationship with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). President Donald Trump and his administration used ICE and the cloud technology called Azure to “accelerate facial recognition and identification” in carrying out the controversial border separations. When these questions started hitting Microsoft, the company came forward, releasing a statement calling the policy “cruel” and “abusive.” Smith confirmed that Microsoft was opposed, stating that its contract with ICE did not include facial recognition technology.

Microsoft is not the only one catching fire for their software potentially violating civil rights and privacy. Amazon has been given complaints from its own shareholders, as well as civil rights groups, after local police forces used the company’s facial recognition technology, Rekognition, which can identify up to 100 people in a single photo. Shareholders were outraged when they found out, and co-authored a letter to Amazon, pressuring the company to stop the selling of that software to the U.S. government. They say it is aiding in mass surveillance, posing a threat to privacy rights, cites CNN.