Activists are planning a demonstration at Microsoft’s Redmond, Wash., campus Wednesday to protest the company’s relationship with Israeli security firm AnyVision.
The protestors plan to deliver 75,000 petitions demanding Microsoft stop funding AnyVision, a company that makes surveillance technology, including a robust facial recognition product.
The demonstration is the latest example of employee activism within the tech industry and growing public concern about how facial recognition technology is used in surveillance. Microsoft is a leading advocate for facial recognition and artificial intelligence regulation, creating a complicated dynamic for the company’s Israeli investment.
The activism follows revelations that AnyVision’s technology was used in a secret military surveillance project monitoring Palestinians in the West Bank. AnyVision denies its technology is used in that way.
Microsoft’s venture capital fund, M12, invested in AnyVision’s $74 million financing round in 2019. After reports of AnyVision’s alleged surveillance in the West Bank surfaced, Microsoft tapped former Attorney General Eric Holder to conduct an audit of the Israeli company.
The petition delivery was organized by Jewish Voice for Peace, MPower Change, SumofUs and other Seattle-area activists. The protestors plan to read a statement from Palestinians living under surveillance and display #DropAnyVision on banners and trucks circling the Microsoft campus.
In the summer of 2019 JVP launched a campaign to pressure Microsoft to #dropAnyVision, Israeli facial recognition tech co found to be secretly surveilling Palestinians. In 2020 we'll ramp up this campaign with partners @MPower_Change and @SumOfUs
More at https://t.co/65BznDbU49 pic.twitter.com/u4dfDiwg7V
— Jewish Voice for Peace (@jvplive) December 27, 2019
In 2018, Microsoft established ethical standards it believes companies developing facial recognition technology should uphold.
Microsoft President Brad Smith said the company would, “advocate for safeguards for people’s democratic freedoms in law enforcement surveillance scenarios, and will not deploy facial recognition technology in scenarios that we believe will put these freedoms at risk,” in a blog post at the time.
“Palestinians under Israeli military occupation do not enjoy democratic freedoms — and AnyVision’s technology only further limits their right to privacy and freedom of movement,” the organizers of the protest said on a website dedicated to the campaign.