Microsoft and Amazon under fire over facial recognition technology

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Criticism of technology companies based on the applications their facial recognition products are being used for is growing, with Amazon and Microsoft each drawing fire for their work with U.S. law enforcement and border protection agencies.

Microsoft has issued a statement in response to questions raised online about its role in the separation of migrant children from their parents by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), The Verge reports. Questions and criticism were directed to the company over social media after a January blog post surfaced describing the use of Azure Government by ICE “to process data on edge devices or utilize deep learning capabilities to accelerate facial recognition and identification.”

Following public outcry over the post, in which Microsoft says it is “proud” to support ICE’s IT modernization, a section of the blog post was removed and then restored. Microsoft issued a statement expressing dismay at the separation of families at the U.S.’s southern border, and later in the day revised it to directly address its relationship with ICE.

“In response to questions we want to be clear: Microsoft is not working with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or U.S. Customs and Border Protection on any projects related to separating children from their families at the border, and contrary to some speculation, we are not aware of Azure or Azure services being used for this purpose,” the company said in its updated statement. “As a company, Microsoft is dismayed by the forcible separation of children from their families at the border. Family unification has been a fundamental tenet of American policy and law since the end of World War II. As a company Microsoft has worked for over 20 years to combine technology with the rule of law to ensure that children who are refugees and immigrants can remain with their parents. We need to continue to build on this noble tradition rather than change course now. We urge the administration to change its policy and Congress to pass legislation ensuring children are no longer separated from their families.”

Amazon shareholders weigh in on law enforcement Rekognition use

A letter has been delivered to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos co-signed by nearly 20 groups of shareholders in the company, expressing concern over the threat to privacy posed by law enforcement use of its facial recognition technology, CNN reports. Several of the groups, including Social Equity Group and Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investment, are socially responsible investing firms or advocates.

“We are concerned the technology would be used to unfairly and disproportionately target and surveil people of color, immigrants, and civil society organizations,” the groups write. “We are concerned sales may be expanded to foreign governments, including authoritarian regimes.”

Bezos also received a letter from the ACLU and nearly 70 other groups, along with a petition with more than 150,000 signatures, CNET reports, repeating its previous call for Amazon to stop marketing Rekognition to law enforcement agencies.

Amazon responded to the previous call with a blog post, pointing out that no abuse of Rekognition has been reported.

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