Microsoft issues rallying cry to governments around the world to regulate facial recognition technology

Microsoft does not believe that the world will be best served by a commercial race to the bottom.

Microsoft has put out a call for governments around the world to introduce laws to regulate facial recognition technology in 2019, warning that facial recognition services will exacerbate societal issues in five years’ time if nothing is done.

In a letter published on the company’s official blog, Microsoft president Brad Smith noted that these societal challenges will be much more difficult to ‘bottle back up’ if facial recognition technology is not regulated.

These challenges, Smith noted, include how certain uses of facial recognition technology increase the risk of decisions and, outcomes that are biased and in violation of laws prohibiting discrimination, the intrusions into people’s privacy, and the mass surveillance encroaching on democratic freedoms.

He added that Microsoft does not believe that the world will be best served by a commercial race to the bottom, with tech companies forced to choose between social responsibility and market success.

“We believe that the only way to protect against this race to the bottom is to build a floor of responsibility that supports healthy market competition. And a solid floor requires that we ensure that this technology, and the organizations that develop and use it, are governed by the rule of law,” Smith wrote.

“While we don’t have answers for every potential question, we believe there are sufficient answers for good, initial legislation in this area that will enable the technology to continue to advance while protecting the public interest. It’s critical that governments keep pace with this technology, and this incremental approach will enable faster and better learning across the public sector.”

The private sector has a role to play too, Smith added, highlighting that Microsoft and its fellow tech companies need to start creating safeguards to address facial recognition technology in order to serve their customers in important and broad ways, even as facial recognition technology has created many new and positive benefits for people around the world.

Microsoft has taken the lead by adopting six principles to manage these issues, said Smith, after a six-month-long discussion about the subject with its employees, customers, public officials, academics and groups across civil society.

The six principles are fairness, transparency, accountability, non-discrimination, notice and consent, and lawful surveillance. You can read the entire letter in its entirety here.

Smith's comments come as brands like Delta Air Lines introduce facial recognition technology in its products to customers and the Singapore government begins a pilot test in 2019 to install surveillance cameras on more than 100,000 lampposts in the island-state to help authorities pick out and recognize faces in crowds.

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