In recent months, many companies have made headlines for selling biometric technology to police forces around the world. Microsoft, on the other hand, has done the opposite. Speaking at a conference at Stanford, company President Brad Smith revealed that Microsoft refused to sell its facial recognition tech to an unnamed law enforcement agency in California.
“Anytime they pulled anyone over, they wanted to run a face scan,” said Smith. “We said this technology is not your answer.”
Interestingly, Smith cited racial bias as a key factor when making the decision. Microsoft’s tech has primarily been tested on white men, so deploying it in the field could lead to more false positives for women and people of color and have a disproportionate impact on disadvantaged communities. It’s not the first time that a Microsoft executive has called for greater responsibility and the ethical oversight of facial recognition tech.
Smith went on to reveal that Microsoft refused to install facial recognition in an undisclosed country (one that is not free according to the nonprofit Freedom House) for fear that it would be used to suppress freedom of assembly in the capital city. However, Microsoft did sell its tech to an American prison, which offered a more self-contained environment.
Even so, it’s still relatively unusual to see a company like Microsoft pushing back against police surveillance specifically due to human rights concerns about its own technology. The transparency is likely to be heartening for human rights advocates, especially in the wake of the almost farcical deployment of facial recognition in New York.
April 23, 2019 – by Eric Weiss