Big Tech moves away from facial recognition for law enforcement

Facial recognition shown to be inaccurate 96 percent of the time

The past few weeks have been tumultuous to say the least. Across every industry, companies are looking for ways to diversify their workforces and support minority employees following widespread protests that originated after the killing of George Floyd. For Big Tech, there’s an obvious change to be made—how facial recognition is handled.

Over the past few days, three of the biggest players in the facial recognition space have made bold moves regarding their technology. IBM first completely abandoned its work on facial recognition, citing concerns for its potential misuse. Then, both Amazon and Microsoft announced that they won’t sell or license their facial recognition software for law enforcement use without significant changes.

Big Tech Takes a Stance

IBM’s seemingly sudden announcement to nix its facial recognition businesses came as a bit of a shock. Its CEO, Arvind Krishna, wrote in a letter to Congress, “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.”

Shortly after, Amazon followed suit. Its Rekognition software has grown increasingly popular with local law enforcement agencies in recent years. However, it has also drawn a significant deal of criticism regarding its accuracy. The details of how exactly the tech is used are murky and even AWS chief Andy Jassy doesn’t know how many departments use it. After repeatedly pushing back against the criticism, Amazon finally decided to make a move.

It announced, “We’re implementing a one-year moratorium on police use of Amazon’s facial recognition technology. We’ve advocated that governments should put in place stronger regulations to govern the ethical use of facial recognition technology… We hope this one-year moratorium might give Congress enough time to implement appropriate rules, and we stand ready to help if requested.”

On Thursday, Microsoft became the third and final major facial recognition player to take a stance. President Brad Smith told The Washington Post that his company “will not sell facial-recognition technology to police departments in the United States until we have a national law in place, grounded in human rights, that will govern this technology.”

Conclusion to Debate

The fact that facial recognition and analysis software contains racial bias is just that, a fact. Countless studies have proven time and time again that such programs are less accurate when identifying non-white individuals. That fact that such an issue exists speaks volumes of the development behind the world’s most popular facial recognition software. However, it also facilitates another problem.

In the hands of law enforcement, it can lead to things like racial profiling and wrongful conviction. While that could happen to anyone, it’s much more likely to affect minorities as the tech is less reliable.

These concerns have been the topic of debate for years as both companies and individuals weigh the societal implications of using facial recognition. Many have advocated for it to be banned altogether. Others simply don’t want it in the hands of law enforcement. Still others argue that it is a useful tool—despite its flaws.

Regardless, that debate is finally starting to come to a close. With the announcements of the three companies noted above, the facial recognition space has quickly come to a screeching halt. Not only for minority individuals, but for everyone, that’s probably a good thing.


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