Microsoft has reportedly removed from the internet a database of 10 million faces which it had been using to train facial recognition systems.
According to the Financial Times, the database dubbed MS Celeb was used by military researchers and by Chinese firms Sensetime and Megvii, among other companies. The database was published in 2016 with Microsoft saying it was the biggest facial recognition database that is publicly accessible. It included more than 10 million images of close to 100,000 people. According to the report, the individuals behind the images did not give their consent to be included in the database. Rather Microsoft got the images from search engines and videos under the Creative Commons license. That enables academia to reuse photos, noted the report.
Microsoft was prompted to take down the database after it was reported in April that it was being used by companies. At the time, reports said the MS Celeb data set had been used by several companies including IBM, Panasonic, Alibaba, Nvidia, Hitachi, Sensetime and Megivi. Megvii and Sensetime supply equipment to Chinese officials in Xinjiang where minorities are being tracked and held in internment camps.
The move on the part of Microsoft comes as concerns are increasing about the use of facial recognition technology to monitor people and intrude on privacy. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has emerged as a supporter of regulation for the technology. Earlier this year at the World Economic Forum the CEO said that as the use of facial recognition technology grows, self-regulation for companies may not go far enough to contend with the impact it may have on society.
“One of the things that I feel today is, in the marketplace, there’s competition; there’s no discrimination between the right use and the wrong use of facial recognition,” Nadella said at the time. He noted that self-regulation is still very important but laws may be needed to prevent any harmful outcomes the technology could have. The Microsoft CEO cautioned that regulation should help and not hinder the marketplace.