Microsoft faces criticism for funding facial recognition surveillance company

The ACLU has announced its disappointment with Microsoft for failing to stick by the principles it said it would abide by.

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Microsoft has been criticized for supporting AnyVision, a facial recognition-based surveillance company entangled in alleged human rights violations. Despite expressing a progressive stance on facial recognition, Microsoft failed to follow through on its claims and ended up funding a company that was carrying out mass-surveillance on Palestinians.

AnyVision is an Israeli company also known for supplying technology and supporting countries known for violating human rights such as Russia and Hong Kong. For a long time now, Microsoft had presented a facade of righteousness when compared to contemporaries such as Google and Amazon in the realm of facial recognition.

In mid-July, it was found that AnyVision was involved in Israeli surveillance project across the country’s West Bank. This new reveal makes it clear that big tech is heavily inclined towards supporting bleeding edge technology that may have undesirable consequences with respect to privacy and security of the general public.

The director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Shankar Narayan said that he had held several meetings with Microsoft in the previous year where the company agreed to refrain from spreading facial recognition. However, Microsoft’s ties with AnyVision made Narayan realize that the company hadn’t followed through.

“This particular investment is not a big surprise to me—there’s a demonstrable gap between action and rhetoric in the case of most big tech companies and Microsoft in particular,” said Mr. Narayan.

On the other hand, Microsoft said that the company was transparent and consistent when it came to communicating its stance on surveillance technology. After meeting with ACLU, Microsoft started posting its thoughts on facial surveillance.

Brad Smith, the president of Microsoft published the company’s six principles for guiding the company in the realm of facial recognition. Accountability, transparency, non-discrimination, notice and consent, lawful surveillance and fairness were the principles the company vowed to follow.

After the $78 million funding round with Microsoft, AnyVision also claimed to adhere to Microsoft’s six principles as well. As of now, it’s unclear whether the Israeli company’s investors were unaware of the company’s involvement in unethical surveillance activities.

AnyVision currently extends its services in Moscow, Macau and Hong Kong, countries with a high incidence of human rights violations, according to the UN. It is to be noted that the company’s advisory board is headed by Tamir Pardo, the former chief of Israel’s security department.

With ties to the Israeli government, and activities in sensitive nations where facial recognition activities may be tied to unlawful or non-consensual mass surveillance, AnyVision may turn out to be a blotch on Microsoft’s progressive stance with regard to facial recognition.

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