(TMU) – As impressions of law enforcement continue to change, multiple major tech companies have announced plans to stop selling facial recognition to police, or to stop developing the technology entirely.
Last week, Amazon announced that it will be putting its facial recognition deals with police on hold for at least a year. The company did not give a specific reason, but the announcement comes at a time while others in the tech industry are considering similar actions.
“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,” Amazon said in a statement.
A few days prior to Amazon’s announcement, IBM CEO Arvind Krishna said that the company would stop developing the technology altogether, and openly voiced support for the protests against systematic oppression.
“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,” Krishna said.
Microsoft is the most recent company to announce that they are reconsidering some of their business relationships with police in response to the ongoing protests. The company said that they will stop selling facial recognition to police until they feel that there is sufficient regulation to ensure that it is not being used unethically.
During a virtual event hosted by the Washington Post, Microsoft President Brad Smith said, “We will not sell facial recognition tech to police in the U.S. until there is a national law in place… We must pursue a national law to govern facial recognition grounded in the protection of human rights.”
However, Microsoft, Amazon, and IBM not the primary companies that are currently providing the technology to police, so this measure doesn’t seem to represent a large financial loss for these companies, according to the Washington Post.
Police and government agencies have been increasingly reliant on facial recognition software to hunt for suspects in recent years, despite the fact that this technology is notorious for falsely identifying innocent people as criminals.
In one of the most recent cases, Amazon’s facial recognition technology falsely identified 27 different professional athletes as criminals. While it may be true that professional football players have been known to get in trouble from time to time, this is obviously a failure of the software.
According to a Freedom of Information request filed by Wired, these are actually typical numbers for the facial recognition software used by the South Wales Police. Data from the department showed that there were false-positive rates of 87 percent and 90 percent for different events.
Similar numbers were released by the FBI in 2016, with the agency also admitting that their facial recognition database consisted of mostly innocent people since they use driver’s license and passport photos for their searches, in addition to mug shots. In fact, there is a 50/50 chance that your picture is in a facial recognition database. Also in 2016, another study found that facial recognition software disproportionately targeted people with dark skin.
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