Face the Future


How do we harness the power of new technology while ensuring that the public is protected from its flaws and opportunities for misuse? Do private sector innovators have an ethical or social responsibility to ensure that their technology can only be used for good, not evil? Can we trust our policymakers to adequately regulate rapidly developing technology? These questions have recently garnered attention from tech companies in relation to facial recognition technology.

In July 2018, Microsoft published a blog post stating that the “only effective way to manage the use of technology by a government is for the government proactively to manage this use itself. And if there are concerns about how a technology will be deployed more broadly across society, the only way to regulate this broad use is for the government to do so.” To this end, Microsoft recommended the formation of a bipartisan and expert commission to determine how best to regulate facial recognition technology. 

In a follow up blog post in December, Microsoft called upon governments to begin regulating facial recognition technology immediately and outlined six facial recognition principles that Microsoft committed to implement in 2019. Microsoft warned that without government regulation, there will be a “commercial race to the bottom, with tech companies forced to choose between social responsibility and market success”.

This month, Amazon published a set of five guidelines that it encourages policymakers to consider when drafting legislation governing the use of facial recognition technology. Amazon stresses: “It’s critical that any legislation protect civil rights while also allowing for continued innovation and practical application of the technology.” Amazon asserts that the development of new technology should not be stifled simply because the technology could potentially be misused. Rather, tech companies should be responsible for ensuring that their technology is applied appropriately and for educating customers on best practices.

These calls to action from Microsoft and Amazon signal an acknowledgment from the tech community that tech companies have a role to play in how their innovations are used in society, whether by urging government regulation, encouraging education and best practices or perhaps even refusing to the release the technology to the public altogether.

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Lauren Sigouin