Microsoft is being selective about the government agencies that can buy the company’s facial recognition software.
Speaking at a conference at Stanford University, Microsoft President Brad Smith gave examples of instances when the company turned down prospective customers out of concerns over how the technology would be used, according to Reuters.
Smith said Microsoft refused to sell its software to a California law enforcement agency that wanted to run face scans “anytime they pulled anyone over.” Microsoft also wouldn’t allow an unnamed city in another country to use the technology on cameras in public spaces. Smith said Microsoft was willing to provide the technology to an American prison, however.
In context: Microsoft has been advocating for regulation of facial recognition technology at the federal and local levels. The company helped craft a bill in its home state, Washington, that would impose new rules on companies developing facial recognition software and government agencies that want to use it. Microsoft and nearby Amazon would both be subject to the new regulations.
Between the lines: Amazon has come under fire from civil rights groups for selling its facial recognition software to law enforcement agencies in Oregon and Florida. Microsoft’s tough stance on the facial recognition is seen by some as a shot across the bow at Amazon.
Why it matters: Leading AI scientists, the ACLU, and researchers at MIT have warned that facial recognition can amplify human biases and disproportionately misidentify women and people of color. Amazon disputes the research. The company’s own engineers were not able to reproduce their findings when using the settings recommended for law enforcement agencies using facial recognition software, according to Amazon.