IBM pulls out of facial recognition market to fight racism

IBM pulls out of facial recognition market to fight racism

The wave of mobilization against racism has revived the debate on the ethical issues of facial recognition. As a result, IBM announced Monday, June 8, its intention to stop the sale of facial recognition software for general purposes as protests against racism and police violence have followed each other in the United States for the past two weeks. The US IT giant has stated that it is firmly opposed “to the use of any technology for mass surveillance, racial profiling, violations of basic human rights and freedoms or any purpose contrary to our values“, in a letter to members of Congress from IBM Chief executive Arvind Krishna.

“We believe this is the time to open a national dialogue on facial recognition technologies to determine whether, and how, they should be used by law enforcement,” he said. Facial recognition is based on artificial intelligence (AI) technologies. It can be used to authenticate users of a service (smartphone, payment system…) but also to identify people within a group of individuals physically present or in a photo database, for example.

Facial recognition “can help police protect communities but must not promote discrimination or racial injustice”, details Arvind Krishna. “Artificial intelligence providers and customer users share the responsibility to ensure that AI is not biased, especially when it comes to enforcing the law”.

The United States has been rocked by a wave of protest against institutionalized racism and police brutality since the death of George Floyd, an African-American suffocated by a white police officer in Minneapolis on May 25.

The IBM boss is calling on Congress to ensure that mobile cameras worn by officers and analytics tools enable police to be held accountable when needed. Neema Singh Guliani, of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), believes that facial recognition should not be built into these cameras at all. “We need to invest in technologies that can help bridge the digital divide, not technologies that create surveillance infrastructure and exacerbate police abuse and structural racism,” she argued in a statement issued in response to police reform measures proposed to Congress.

ACLU regularly challenges technology companies like Amazon or Microsoft about potentially abusive or deleterious uses of facial recognition.

Read also — Facial recognition does not escape racial and gender bias, according to a new study

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