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Microsoft calls for regulation of facial recognition, saying it’s too risky to leave to industry alone

UPDATED: Fri., July 13, 2018, 8:07 p.m.

 (Associated Press)
(Associated Press)

Microsoft is calling for government regulation on facial-recognition software, one of its key technologies, saying such artificial intelligence is too important and potentially dangerous for tech giants to police themselves.

On Friday, company President Brad Smith urged lawmakers in a blog post to form a bipartisan and expert commission that could set standards and ward against abuses of face recognition, in which software can be used to identify a person from afar without their consent.

“This technology can catalog your photos, help reunite families or potentially be misused and abused by private companies and public authorities alike,” Smith wrote. “The only way to regulate this broad use is for the government to do so.”

The demand marks a rare call for greater regulation from a tech industry that has often bristled at Washington involvement in their work, believing government rules could hamper new technologies or destroy their competitive edge.

“While we appreciate that some people today are calling for tech companies to make these decisions,” Smith said, “we believe this is an inadequate substitute for decision making by the public and its representatives.”

Microsoft last month faced widespread criticism and calls to cancel its contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which uses a set of Microsoft cloud-computing tools that can also include face recognition. The company said its work with the agency is currently limited to mail, messaging and office work.

The company, Smith said, is “moving more deliberately with our facial recognition consulting and contracting work” and has turned down customers calling for deployments of facial-recognition technology in areas “where we’ve concluded that there are greater human rights risks.”

The company did not immediately provide more details.