Microsoft has turned down a request from Police force in California to use its Facial Recognition Tech to use alongside Police’s Body Cameras and Cars, as reported by Reuters.
Microsoft’s president, Brad Smith, on a public event in Stanford University has stated his concerns that would affect women and minorities disproportionately due to facial recognition technology that is primarily trained on Caucasian race, particularly Men’s face, it has higher error rates for other races and sexes.
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“Every time they pulled anyone over, they wanted to run a face scan,” said Smith of the unnamed law enforcement agency. “We said this technology is not your answer.”
Facial recognition has become a controversial topic for tech companies in recent years, partly because of its biases, but also its potential for authoritarian surveillance.
Amazon has been repeatedly criticized for selling the facial recognition technology to law enforcement, and faced pushback from both employees and shareholders. Google, meanwhile, says it refuses to sell facial recognition services altogether due to their potential for misuse.
Microsoft has been one of the biggest voices in this debate, repeatedly calling for federal regulation. “‘Move fast and break things’ became something of a mantra in Silicon Valley earlier this decade,” Smith wrote in an open letter earlier this year. “But if we move too fast with facial recognition, we may find that people’s fundamental rights are being broken.”
As stated at Stanford this week, Smith said the company had also rejected an offer to install facial recognition technology in cameras of the capital city of an unnamed country. He believes that action would have suppressed the freedom of assembly.
Activists worried about the misuse of facial recognition often point to China as a real worst-case example. The Chinese government has deployed facial recognition as a part of its crackdown on the largely Muslim Uighur minority. Activists say the result has been a digital surveillance network that reached the point where it never reach before, which can track individuals across a city and produce automated warnings when Uighurs gather together.
But despite privacy issues and potential misuse, facial recognition is also becoming more common in the West, even if it’s not part of a centralized system like China. The technology is being installed in airports, schools, and retail stores, and retrofitted into existing surveillance systems.
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Even Microsoft, which is openly debating the merits of this technology, is happy selling it in places some might find troubling.
Reuters notes that, speaking at Stanford, Smith said that while the company had refused to sell facial recognition to police, it had provided it to an American prison “after the company concluded that the environment would be limited and that it would improve safety inside the unnamed institution.”