IBM decries facial recognition exports, having stopped its own sales of related tech

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A perennial leader in computing is leading by example, as the top brass puts the brakes on facial recognition technology sales, and urges others to do the same.


A new statement from IBM covered in today’s tech press talks about how companies should seek specific kinds of limitations on how facial recognition technology gets sold, not just in the U.S., but as it is exported to other countries by American companies.


“The company said in a statement the United States should institute new export limits on ‘the type of facial recognition system most likely to be used in mass surveillance systems, racial profiling or other human rights violations,’” writes David Shepardson at Reuters.


For context, the U.S. Commerce Department sought public comment on facial recognition in July, with a deadline of September 15, one that’s fast approaching.


Meeting this deadline, IBM has called specifically for multiple kinds of controls – export restrictions for both the algorithms, and the cameras and gear that can potentially be used to spy on citizens.


One common example is concerned about China’s use of facial recognition technology in oppressive operations against minorities like Uighurs.


However, others expressed concern about a range of nations headed by dictatorial or authoritarian powers that might act to abuse the functionality of facial recognition for nefarious ends.


IBM itself stopped selling facial recognition technology in June.


“IBM firmly opposes and will not condone uses of any [facial recognition] technology, including facial recognition technology offered by other vendors, for mass surveillance, racial profiling, violations of basic human rights and freedoms, or any purpose which is not consistent with our values and Principles of Trust and Transparency,” IBM CEO Arvind Krishna wrote in a letter to Congress June 8, according to coverage at The Verge. “We believe now is the time to begin a national dialogue on whether and how facial recognition technology should be employed by domestic law enforcement agencies.”


Voluntary cessation of some types of technology sales, and related statements, show true leadership in an era where many believe AI ethics are just as important as high-tech functionality.


Months ago, we reported on some law enforcement departments that declined to use Clearview’s facial recognition technology based on privacy and human rights concerns.


As our technologies become more powerful, we have to evaluate the positives and negatives of using these in production scenarios.


As for the effect on tech markets, watch what happens with companies like IBM that take a stand, to learn more about how an established blue-chip company can develop its reputation in a fast-paced industry.