Agree or disagree? Communications technology, like all new technology, is neither good nor evil.
I believe what we choose to do with technology is what matters. For instance, Facial Recognition Technology (FRT) can be used for the good of all, or it can be used by a draconian surveillance state to control a population.
Last year, Brad Smith, the president of Microsoft, warned that the technology was too risky for companies to police on their own and he asked Congress to oversee its use.
We believe it’s important for governments in 2019 to start adopting laws to regulate this technology. The facial recognition genie, so to speak, is just emerging from the bottle. Unless we act, we risk waking up five years from now to find that facial recognition services have spread in ways that exacerbate societal issues. By that time, these challenges will be much more difficult to bottle back up.
In particular, we don’t believe that the world will be best served by a commercial race to the bottom, with tech companies forced to choose between social responsibility and market success.
American civil liberties advocates warn that the ability of facial surveillance to identify people at a distance, or online, without their knowledge or consent presents unique risks — threatening Americans’ ability to freely attend political protests or simply go about their business anonymously in public.
Microsoft Dumps MS Celeb Database
According to the Financial Times, Microsoft isn’t waiting around for governments to act. They are self-policing, in addition to advocating for regulation.
Microsoft has quietly pulled from the internet its database of 10m faces, which has been used to train facial recognition systems around the world, including by military researchers and Chinese firms such as SenseTime and Megvii. The database, known as MS Celeb, was published in 2016 and described by the company as the largest publicly available facial recognition data set in the world, containing more than 10m images of nearly 100,000 individuals.
Google famously uttered, “Don’t be evil.” It sounds to me like Microsoft is carrying that banner today.
Retailers Dig It
There are now more than 1,600 digital billboards, each equipped with dozens of hidden cameras, installed into 41 Westfield centers across Australia and New Zealand, according to The Guardian. Scentre Group, Westfield Australia’s parent company, emphasizes that all data collected is anonymous and that they are using facial detection, not facial recognition technology (FRT).
This means generic information such as a shopper’s age and gender is collected rather than the technology using photo-matching databases to identify who customers are. A spokesperson would not confirm whether or not Westfield would consider using FRT in the future.
Companies including Target, 7-Eleven, Walmart are all experimenting with facial recognition. Target and Walmart use the technology in-store to prevent theft and fraud, while 7-Eleven plans to use it to “identify loyal customers.”
San Francisco Says Not In Our Front Yard
The city that runs on tech and tech money is also the first in the nation to restrict FRT. 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.
IN RELATED NEWS: Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon and flexing their muscles on Capitol Hill. The four companies spent a combined $55 million on lobbying last year, doubling their combined spending of $27.4 million in 2016.
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