Google says that it won’t sell any facial recognition products until it comes up with policies and additional safeguards that make sure the controversial technology is not abused. The announcement was made through a blog post that was just recently published. Google is already working with other groups in order to identify some of the common issues surrounding facial recognition technology.
Kent Walker, Google’s senior vice president of global affairs, said that many technologies that have multiple applications like facial recognition need to be carefully rolled out. This he says ensures that the benefits of these systems are delivered and instances of abuse are prevented. Walker noted that the goal for Google is to ensure that the new technology is delivered in a way that’s fully aligned with the company’s values and principles.
The decision by Google to hold off on commercializing facial recognition comes as other tech companies continue to face blowback on how they have handled this. Amazon, for instance, has been one of the front-runners in the development of this technology. Microsoft too has been making progress in this area. However, the two companies have had to deal with a number of issues. For instance, employees at Amazon and Microsoft have expressed their concern on how the technology has been commercialized. There have been complaints too that law enforcement authorities including the Immigration and Customs Enforcement may have used the technology in an abusive way.
However, law enforcement bodies have denied these allegations but many experts agree that there are many loopholes in these technologies that can be abused. Facial recognition is a multipurpose technology. It can be used for a wide range of things including simple tasks like unlocking your phone or more complex ones like tracking criminals. Google notes that while these applications are very clear to most people, there’s still a need to better understand this technology and its implications on normal human society before rolling it out commercially.
Privacy activists think that this type of technology shouldn’t be available to the government without some kind of oversight. Amazon and Microsoft so far already have plans to develop the tech for government use. It seems the companies haven’t yet felt the pressure leveled by activists. But increased concern over the applications of facial recognition by the state could trigger some action in the future.
The recent decision by Google comes in the middle of an internal controversy. Many employees working for the tech giant have protested the company’s cooperation with the US military in the development of AI. Google signed a contract with the Pentagon earlier this year to develop an AI that can be used to analyze drone footage. Some top employees at the company actually resigned over the issue. Any attempt to hand over facial recognition technology to law enforcement or another state department could trigger the same backlash. It seems though that Google wants to keep things open and transparent. It’s not clear, however, whether other developers such as Amazon and Microsoft will follow suit.