Google is saying that they will refrain from selling facial recognition products until they can come up with policies that will prevent abuse related to this technology. This is the world that we live in now. Technology is advancing at such a rapid pace, rules and regulations need to be in place in order to prevent bad things from happening. Now I’m not saying that rules or regulations will completely prevent something bad from happening, but I am saying that they will help. Would data privacy laws have helped prevent the Equifax or Marriott data breaches? Absolutely. They couldn’t have stopped them completely, but they would have helped to prevent them in many ways.
Now, Google is working with other groups to identify issues surrounding facial recognition. Why is Google holding off on commercializing facial recognition technology? Well, other companies are facing some pretty harsh criticism in the public realm, so it kind of makes sense. For example, Microsoft employees have been protesting over concerns of their companies’ relationship with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement – specifically around the type of technology that they’re using and what they’re using it for. In July, Microsoft President, Brad Smith said that the company was no longer supporting any government use of facial recognition. Last week, they called on governments worldwide to start regulating the technology.
And this is interesting, isn’t it? We all tend to think that tech giants are horrible, but when it comes down to it, they’re the ones who are asking for regulations in an attempt to hold themselves accountable. What do others think about this? Nicole Ozer, technology and civil liberties director for the American Civil Liberties Union of California made this statement:
“This is a strong first step. We will continue to put Google’s feet to the fire to make sure it doesn’t build or sell a face surveillance product that violates civil and human rights. We also renew our call on Amazon and Microsoft to not provide dangerous face surveillance to the government.”
Google’s announcement comes after employees have started to protest its use of artificial intelligence. In fact, earlier in 2018, the company actually faced resignations over a contract with the Pentagon for Maven. Maven is a project that uses AI for drone footage analysis. Google decided not to renew that contract, and Sundar Pichai released the company’s AI Principles, which is a set of guidelines that outline how they will and won’t use the technology. Which means, they’re not only asking to be held accountable, but they’re also being transparent about what that accountability means.
More recently, Google has been criticized around how they are using artificial intelligence in a project called Dragonfly. Dragonfly is an effort to bring a censored search engine to China. Google shut down its search engine in China eight years ago, indicating that it didn’t want to be involved in “totalitarian” policies of the government. What’s interesting is that the regime in China hasn’t changed, and yet this is something that Google is considering. Although, when Pichai testified before Congress this week, he told lawmakers that the company had “no plans” to launch a search engine in China any time soon.