Microsoft is joining the movement for face-recognition technology regulation.
The software giant the first major tech company to make such a brazen call to the government to impose limits on this type of technology, and the company’s grievances are outlined in a blog post published today by its president Brad Smith.
“Facial-recognition technology raises issues that go to the heart of fundamental human rights protections like privacy and freedom of expression,” reads the post.
“The only effective way to manage the use of technology by a government is for the government proactively to manage this use itself. And if there are concerns about how a technology will be deployed more broadly across society, the only way to regulate this broad use is for the government to do so.”
Microsoft is somewhat of a leader within facial recognition software — Uber even uses the company’s technology to verify drivers’ identities. But Microsoft’s technology is far FROM the best in the industry. Its Windows 10 facial recognition was so subpar that printed out photographs could fool the tool.
It’s also interesting to note that while Smith’s blog post today is forward-thinking among large tech companies, calls like this have been made by other, smaller tech companies and activist groups for a long time. In fact, Smith even seems a bit removed from the realities of how far face-recognition technology has come.
He beckons the readers to imagine a world where governments track where people have walked over the past month without permission. That happened in Orlando and other cities across the United States that used Amazon’s deep learning surveillance technology Rekognition, which can identify almost every single face in a crowd.
Smith also paints the image of shopping malls using face-recognition technology as well that can share information about consumer shopping habits. Although this exact incident hasn’t happened, it is reminiscent of Orange County malls secretly collecting license plate data for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (an agency that Microsoft has a contractual partnership with, though it claims the partnership is not for face recognition).
He writes how these situations have “long been the stuff of science-fiction and popular movies — like ‘Minority Report,’ ‘Enemy of the State’ and even ‘1984’,” and possibly gave the surveillance examples as irony. But it’s alarming that the head of such a large tech company is so removed from what tech is already doing today.
So while this is a good first step at a national level for such a large technology company, there is clearly still a lot of work to do. Maybe Smith should have checked to see what people have already been doing before publishing this blog post.
Microsoft did not say anything further beyond Smith’s blog post.