Google Cloud pauses facial recognition offering to work out responsible use challenges

Google appears to have come down closer to Microsoft than Amazon, as the cloud giants pick positions on the readiness of their facial recognition for broad deployment. The company now says it will not offer general-purpose facial recognition APIs until it gets some answers to questions about how to avoid abuse and harmful outcomes, as part of what the company describes as its long commitment to the responsible development of artificial intelligence.

In a blog post on “AI for Social Good in Asia Pacific,” Google Senior Vice President of Global Affairs Kent Walker expounds the human value of some of the company’s work with AI for healthcare applications. He also explains the company’s position that further research and governance frameworks are necessary to guide responsible AI development.

Walker notes the benefit of facial recognition for finding missing persons, and says promising applications are coming.

“However, like many technologies with multiple uses, facial recognition merits careful consideration to ensure its use is aligned with our principles and values, and avoids abuse and harmful outcomes,” Walker writes. “We continue to work with many organizations to identify and address these challenges, and unlike some other companies, Google Cloud has chosen not to offer general-purpose facial recognition APIs before working through important technology and policy questions.”

The company, which recently launched the Google AI Impact Challenge to fund humanitarian applications of the technology, is currently running its AI for Social Good Summit in Bangkok, along with the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP).

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of California Technology and Civil Liberties Director Nicole Ozer lauded the move in a statement.

“This is a strong first step. Google today demonstrated that, unlike other companies doubling down on efforts to put dangerous face surveillance technology into the hands of law enforcement and ICE, it has a moral compass and is willing to take action to protect its customers and communities. Google also made clear that all companies must stop ignoring the grave harms these surveillance technologies pose to immigrants and people of color, and to our freedom to live our lives, visit a church, or participate in a protest without being tracked by the government.”

Ozer also writes that the ACLU “will continue to put Google’s feet to the fire.”

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