Mi­crosoft calls on U.S. to reg­u­late fa­cial-recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy

Brad Smith, pres­i­dent of tech gi­ant, ad­dresses po­ten­tial ‘sober­ing’ uses for tech­nol­ogy

The Niagara Falls Review - - Canada & World - JAY GREENEThe Wall Street Jour­nal

A top Mi­crosoft Corp. ex­ec­u­tive is call­ing for the U.S. gov­ern­ment to reg­u­late fa­cial-recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy, an area where Ap­ple Inc., Al­pha­bet Inc.’s Google, Face­book Inc. and other tech-gi­ant ri­vals have made sig­nif­i­cant bets, and where Mi­crosoft has made its own in­vest­ments.

It is also the lat­est con­tro­ver­sial topic Brad Smith, Mi­crosoft’s pres­i­dent and chief le­gal of­fi­cer, has taken on. He has re­cently chal­lenged the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion over the im­mi­gra­tion travel ban and the sep­a­ra­tion of chil­dren from par­ents at the Mex­i­can bor­der. He also has weighed in on the role of ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence in so­ci­ety and tan­gled with the gov­ern­ment over law-en­force­ment ef­forts to se­cretly search cus­tomer data on Mi­crosoft servers in the U.S. and abroad.

Fa­cial-recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy has be­come deeply in­te­grated in tech gi­ants’ prod­ucts, whether the key fea­ture for un­lock­ing Ap­ple’s iPhone X or iden­ti­fy­ing peo­ple in Google’s pho­tos app.

In his lat­est mis­sive, Mr. Smith tack­les the po­ten­tial “sober­ing” uses for fa­cial-recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy, such as cre­at­ing a data­base of ev­ery­one who at­tended a po­lit­i­cal rally or gov­ern­men­tal track­ing of res­i­dents as they move about with­out their per­mis­sion or knowl­edge.

“The only ef­fec­tive way to man­age the use of tech­nol­ogy by a gov­ern­ment is for the gov­ern­ment proac­tively to man­age this use it­self,” Mr. Smith wrote in a blog post sched­uled for Fri­day.

But he also chal­lenged the no­tion com­pa­nies could reg­u­late them­selves alone. Change won’t oc­cur, he said, if a few com­pa­nies adopt new stan­dards while ri­vals ig­nore them.

Mi­crosoft has de­vel­oped its own fa­cial-recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy, called Face. Among its cus­tomers is Uber Tech­nolo­gies Inc., whose driv­ers take self­ies to ver­ify their iden­tity when they launch the app to start pick­ing up pas­sen­gers. Mi­crosoft de­clined to say whether any law-en­force­ment agen­cies use Face.

Fa­cial-recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy has been a light­ning rod for crit­i­cism. Face­book’s use of fa­cial recog­ni­tion in pho­tos up­loaded to the plat­form drew a com­plaint from con­sumers to fed­eral reg­u­la­tors ear­lier this year.

Ama­zon.com Inc. in May found it­self em­broiled in the con­tentious is­sue of gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance when dozens of civil­rights or­ga­ni­za­tions called on the com­pany to stop sell­ing its fa­cial­recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy, called Rekog­ni­tion, to law-en­force­ment or­ga­ni­za­tions.

In its re­sponse at the time, Ama­zon said the qual­ity of life would be di­min­ished “if we out­lawed new tech­nol­ogy be­cause some peo­ple could choose to abuse the tech­nol­ogy.”

Mi­crosoft was dragged into the de­bate a month later, when more than a hun­dred of its em­ploy­ees signed an open let­ter posted on an in­ter­nal mes­sage board de­mand­ing the com­pany no longer pro­vide tech­nol­ogy to the U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment, over con­cerns about the agency’s role in sep­a­rat­ing chil­dren from their par­ents. Mr. Smith noted in the blog post that the ICE con­tract “isn’t be­ing used for fa­cial recog­ni­tion at all.”


Mi­crosoft’s Brad Smith chal­lenges the no­tion firms could reg­u­late them­selves alone.

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