Tech Firms Want Moderation, Not Bans, On Facial Recognition

Facial recognition tech has friends in Google, Microsoft and others.

Tech companies want to get ahead of the law when it comes to facial recognition, seeking to restrict its use but also making sure the most severe regulations don’t come to pass, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Microsoft and Amazon are among those slated to profit if various government agencies and businesses expand use of facial recognition technology, which can come with large investments in machine learning (ML) and cloud computing technology.

But some campaigns by cities and states want to crack down severely on the use of facial recognition, feeling its potential for discrimination isn’t worth experimenting with.

Numerous advocacy groups and leaders have called for bans. San Francisco and six other cities have passed laws blocking it, while New York, Hawaii, Massachusetts and Michigan are pondering their own such laws.

Concert promoters Live Nation and AEG, which works with the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, don’t have plans to use the technology. More than 60 college campuses have disavowed its use. Vermont Sen. and U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said he would outlaw the practice if elected.

However, despite all of the opposition, Microsoft wants to see the technology flourish, with company President Brad Smith saying that if society doesn’t move past the “polarizing debates” regarding the subject, people would continue to be left without protection under the law.

As such, Microsoft has backed bills in Congress and in its home state of Washington to allow facial recognition technology with oversight.

In Washington, the bills proposed would allow facial recognition technology for specific uses, such as investigating crimes, controlling access to a building, or identifying a ticket holder.

Amazon, the world leader in cloud computing services, didn’t comment except to say it was in support of national standards, while IBM has voiced support for “precision regulations” without mass surveillance, and Google owner Alphabet is open to a pause on the tech while regulations are developed. Microsoft and IBM even found themselves allied with the Vatican on calls for responsible use for the technology.

Privacy advocates decry such defenses, calling them little more than ploys for big corporations to conduct business as usual.