What does it mean?
First IBM announced that they would stop offering general purpose facial recognition analysis software. A couple of days later Amazon announced they would give a moratorium of a year to their own facial recognition program for law enforcement, to give Congress time to make the necessary changes in legislation. Then Microsoft said that they would stop selling their technology to law forces until federal law regulates it.
These reactions from these technology giants are consequence of the growing concerns about the misuse of facial recognition technology by the police and by the biases that can be entrenched in the use of this technology. They are also influenced by the current climate of protest in the US. Companies want to be seeing as helping society and aligned with the values of the community
This shows that companies are responsive and sensitive to the public mood and are afraid of a public backlash. It could also be argued that they are “responsible corporate citizens” or at least would like to be seen as such.
Facial recognition technology arises some concerns amongst privacy and anti-surveillance activists. Will this signify a step back in the advance of this technology in the US? It seems IBM will stop the commercialization of the technology altogether, but Microsoft and Amazon are only temporarily stopping its sales to law enforcement organizations.
It is however imaginable a future in which Western countries slow down advancement in this technology due to the privacy concerns of their populations, while China redouble their efforts and investments on mastering it and make it widespread and ubiquitous, thus becoming the sole worldwide leaders of this technology.
Let’s see if the federal government legislates this technology and what shape that legislation takes, then how the technology firms react. Also, how do US citizens feel about the use of facial recognition by the police? There are, of course, pros and cons, safety and convenience vs. privacy, etc., but it would be worthwhile having a deeper debate. And how about citizens from other countries? How do Chinese feel about the widespread use of the technology in their country?