August 11, 2020

Why Microsoft, IBM and Amazon disavowed ‘biased’ facial recognition only now?

Microsoft, IBM and Amazon have walked away from facial recognition tech in law enforcement.

Neither company owns a significant market share, but the reputational risk for continuing with the technology has littered each brand with much bigger problems of protest groups, privacy ethics and years of working through the courts.

A Massachusetts Institute of Technology study in 2019 found that none of the facial recognition tools made by the companies were 100 percent accurate in recognising men and women with dark skin.  A study from the US National Institute of Standards and Technology suggested facial recognition algorithms were far less accurate at identifying African-American and Asian faces compared with Caucasian ones.

A long time knowing?

Each company had been informed some time ago the technology was failing to deliver equal racial assessments for some time. But combine this with a sudden global movement to prevent racial bias in society, and hey presto, each company denounces it.

The big U-turn

Regardless, the move marks a line in the sand for each company over where the privacy moral compass now lies – and this will to the relief of many staff who carry the brand flag home with their pay-packets.

Even though each company announced their decisions at a time when people worldwide are protesting about inequality racial bias, the decision to distance from ‘biased AI tech’ is bound to impact other product lines that also have privacy dilemmas.

The question has now been asked – how much bias is to be allowed? If this is biased, what else is?

There is no going back.

The writing has been on the wall on facial recognition for years. But saying that, it is better we have influential companies making these moves now than never – even if they are only reactive.

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Dan is an expert in global technology brand marketing and sales. He has advised IBM, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Samsung and Cisco on brand position, go-to-market strategy and sales performance. He has launched businesses in Fintech, Cleantech, SaaS and marketing platforms. Dan is an award-winning tech journalist who wrote for the Financial Times and Economist Group.

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