Technology that ushers in sweeping societal changes ought to come with a warning, but that’s fanciful thinking in unregulated America. On these brave shores, we believe in self-reliance and self-regulation, prolonged fantasies both.
I often wonder, did Steve Jobs know what he was unleashing with the iPhone because the impact has not been all good. For example, I use facial recognition technology to log on to the phone. It wasn’t enough for Apple to have my finger and thumbprints. Now, they have a fuller picture. Hard to trust that my data will stay on Apple’s servers. Hackers could get in, and the government is already in, by design and decree.
Amid all the chaos and confusion, IBM is doing the right thing. IBM’s CEO, Arvind Krishna, wrote a letter to leaders in Congress about the company’s pursuit of justice and racial equity, focused initially in three key policy areas: police reform, responsible use of technology, and broadening skills and educational opportunities. On the second point, here is the action plan:
IBM no longer offers general purpose IBM facial recognition or analysis software. 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.
Damn. Krishna’s decisive move and moral clarity is exactly the thing that’s been missing from so much of American life and corporate life, in particular.
Accountability Now, Acccountabily Tomorrow, Accountability Forever
According to the Associated Press, IBM had previously tested its facial recognition software with the New York Police Department, although the department has more recently used other vendors. It’s not clear if IBM has existing contracts with other government agencies.
IBM is a real leader, but there is no guarantee that other tech firms will follow.
Many U.S. law enforcement agencies continue to rely on facial recognition software built by companies less well known to the public, such as Tokyo-based NEC or the European companies Idemia and Cognitec, says Clare Garvie, a researcher at Georgetown University’s Center on Privacy and Technology.
When a totalitarian state takes surveillance technology to its logical extreme, the autocrats have a powerful tool at their disposal. This is the case in China today.
The City of San Francisco Also Says No
Krishna did not make his executive decision in a vacuum. Tech companies are increasingly under scrutiny for privacy violations. Google was sued last week in a proposed class action accusing the internet search company of illegally invading the privacy of millions of users by pervasively tracking their internet use through browsers set in “private” mode.
The city that runs on tech and tech money is also the first in the nation to outlaw the technology’s use. By a vote of 8-to-1, the city’s Board of Supervisors opted to prohibit city agencies from using facial recognition technology, or information gleaned from external systems that use the technology.
IBM, Pillar of the Valley
IBM is a powerful company. It was once all-powerful. Those days came and went, but IBM survived. The company survived because it adapted to the business needs of its customers, which also changed.
Change is tough. Not many people welcome it. In marketing, there are so many naysayers and resisters to rapid evolution. It doesn’t matter the topic, people will line up to dismiss the idea or the practice. One of the favorite topics of dismissal today is brand advocacy. Some people believe brand advocacy is a distraction. Others say brands have no business taking stands.
Here’s what I think…a company is an expression of its founder(s) and as the company grows, the larger team. In other words, it’s super personal.
Richards Group is an expression of Stan Richards. Wieden & Kennedy is an expression of Dan Wieden, and so on. IBM’s founders are deceased, but the spirit of what they created and why they created it, remain. The same is true for Ogilvy, Leo Burnett, and others. Companies have DNA, and it’s up to the brand managers in charge (and their agency helpers) to point to and celebrate this essence.