Google Pauses Facial Recognition Commercialization


Google has vowed not to sell its facial recognition products until it can make sure the technology will not be abused.

“Like many technologies with multiple uses, facial recognition merits careful consideration to ensure its use is aligned with our principles and values, and avoids abuse and harmful outcomes,” Kent Walker, senior vice president of global affairs, wrote in a blog post.

The announcement comes after Google was hit with resignations earlier this year over a contract with the Pentagon for Maven, which uses AI for drone footage analysis. Google ultimately decided not to renew the contract. In addition, the company has been criticized for how its AI could be used in a project called Dragonfly, which reportedly aims to bring a censored search engine to China.

Yet earlier this month, a research group affiliated with both Google and Microsoft called for more regulation of facial recognition and other artificial intelligence (AI) products.

“These tools are very suspect and based on faulty science,” said Kate Crawford, a co-founder of the group who works for Microsoft Research. “You cannot have black box systems in core social services.”

Google isn’t the only one that has faced flack for facial recognition. The U.S. Secret Service was called out by the ACLU in early December for its plan to test the use of facial recognition in and around the White House. The agency wants to test whether its system can identify certain volunteer staff members through the scanning of video feeds from existing cameras, including “images of individuals passing by on public streets and parks adjacent to the White House Complex” in order to identify persons of interest.

And even Taylor Swift entered the debate earlier this week, according to CNET, for reportedly using facial recognition software at a concert to identify her known stalkers.

While facial recognition can be used for simple applications such as unlocking your phone, Google said it’s important to better understand the implications of the technology before offering it to others.

“This is a strong first step,” Nicole Ozer, technology and civil liberties director for the American Civil Liberties Union of California, said in a statement. “We will continue to put Google’s feet to the fire to make sure it doesn’t build or sell a face surveillance product that violates civil and human rights. We also renew our call on Amazon and Microsoft to not provide dangerous face surveillance to the government.”


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