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Will IBM’s exit from facial recognition shape the narrative around this technology?

IBM’s stand on facial recognition and Jack Dorsey’s defense for adding fact-checking label to the US President’s tweet, fall into the larger narrative of tech majors' take on role of technology.

June 09, 2020 / 07:03 PM IST
Representative Image

Representative Image

IBM will not sell facial technology or analysis software products. As surprising as it might be, it could not have come at a better time when the role of technology is changing.

While the technology has several positive use cases, it is also increasingly gaining traction as a surveillance tool, say experts.

Facial recognition is a technology that uses facial features to identify an individual. While the technology is evolving and yet to see wider range of adoption commercially, it is currently deployed by enforcement authorities for use cases such as finding missing persons and identifying criminals.

COVID-19 has to some extent given rise to newer use cases such as recording attendance as fingerprint biometric has been suspended.

However it also has a darker side. According to a Reuters report, the technology was used by the Delhi police to identify protesters. The report also revealed that there are wider plans to create National Automated Facial Recognition System to match images captured from CCTV cameras with existing databases, including those of passport and police authorities.

This is worrying tech experts. Multiple experts Moneycontrol spoke to pointed out that the facial recognition as a technology is far from accurate, especially when it comes to people of colour.

Pareekh Jain, Founder, Pareekh Consulting, a technology consultancy firm pointed out that while the technology could be used for all things positive, the possibility for misuse is equally high. For instance, it could be used to profile a particular person using CCTV cameras. In the absence of regulations, there is no clarity on how the data collected will be used and for what purpose.

Most agreed that stronger regulation around facial recognition is necessary to prevent misuse by establishments. "In this environment of mistrust between government, police and public, technology firms should not be seen as aiding this," Jain added.

This is what probably went into IBM’s exit from the market. In the letter to the US Congress, Arvind Krishna, CEO, IBM, said, “Nearly seven decades later, the horrible and tragic deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and too many others remind us that the fight against racism is as urgent as ever.”

The company, in the letter said, “…would like to work with Congress in pursuit of justice and racial equity, focused initially in three key policy areas: police reform, responsible use of technology, and broadening skills and educational opportunities.”

IBM is not the only firm to research this technology though. All tech majors such as Google and Amazon have facial recognition tech and according to reports, Amazon has sold it to the US police.

The steps that will be taken by tech giants such as Google and Amazon will also shape the way technology is consumed, another expert added.

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Swathi Moorthy
first published: Jun 9, 2020 07:03 pm