- After increased calls for tech companies to stop selling facial recognition technology to law enforcement, Amazon pledged to stop for one year.
- Microsoft promised to stop until there is federal legislation, and IBM said it will stop entirely.
- Numerous studies have found that facial recognition programs disproportionately misidentify people of color, which could lead to false arrests. Others are concerned police are using the technology to identify and arrest protestors, as they have in the past.
- Facial recognition is entirely unregulated at the federal level, and all three companies pushed for national legislation.
The Problem With Facial Recognition
IBM, Amazon, and Microsoft have all said they will stop selling facial recognition technology to law enforcement— at least temporarily.
Over the last few years, government agencies and law enforcement have significantly increased their use of facial recognition technology, which is almost entirely unregulated, to track down criminals, terrorists, and illegal immigrants.
One 2016 study by the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law that combined FBI data with information about state and local systems found that facial recognition systems used by law enforcement impacts over 117 million American adults, meaning that “one in two American adults is in a law enforcement face recognition network.”
While the use of facial recognition is something that both activists and privacy advocates have criticized for years, the recent protests and calls for changes in policing have placed renewed pressure on tech companies to stop selling these tools to law enforcement agencies.
There are two overarching arguments made by those who oppose the use of facial recognition by law enforcement.
The first is the argument that the law enforcement system is structurally racist, and any policing tool utilized by that system will undoubtedly be used to target Black and brown people— as all policing tools are.
The second argument is that numerous studies have found that the existing facial recognition technology is far more likely to misidentify women and people of color, which means the systems will lead to more wrongful arrests if used by police.
The reason for this fundamental flaw is due to the fact that the data used to build the facial recognition software are often largely made up of pictures of white men, which makes racial bias ingrained in the systems.
For example, one federal report released at the end of last year found that Asian and Black individuals were up to 100 times more likely to be misidentified by facial recognition software than white men.
When it comes to the protests, there are also very serious concerns that facial recognition is being used to identify Black Lives Matter protestors— which is something they have done before.
During the protests over the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old Black man who died in the custody of police in Baltimore in 2015, the Baltimore Police Department used facial recognition technology to identify protestors, try to link them up with their social media profiles, and then target them for arrest.
What Are They Doing Now?
But despite all of that, tech companies continued to sell facial recognition technology to the police and other law enforcement agencies for years, which is why these decisions by some of the three largest tech companies in the world are significant.
IBM was the first to make its announcement last Monday, and also made the most permanent commitment.
“IBM no longer offers general purpose IBM facial recognition or analysis software,” CEO Arvind Krishna wrote in a letter to members of Congress. “IBM firmly opposes and will not condone uses of any technology, including facial recognition technology offered by other vendors, for mass surveillance, racial profiling, violations of basic human rights and freedoms.”
Two days later Amazon announced in a statement that it was: “implementing a one-year moratorium on police use of Amazon’s facial recognition technology.”
“We’ve advocated that governments should put in place stronger regulations to govern the ethical use of facial recognition technology, and in recent days, Congress appears ready to take on this challenge,” the statement continued. “We hope this one-year moratorium might give Congress enough time to implement appropriate rules, and we stand ready to help if requested.”
Amazon’s commitment here is especially notable because the company’s facial recognition technology has been arguable the most heavily criticized of the three.
A 2018 test conducted by the ACLU found that Amazon’s software incorrectly matched 28 members of Congress with mugshots of people who had committed crimes. In 2019, one study found that Amazon’s system had more difficulty identifying women and darker-skinned faces than IBM and Microsoft’s technology.
As for Microsoft, their announcement was made by the company’s president, Brad Smith, in an interview with the Washington Post on Thursday.
“We will not sell facial-recognition technology to police departments in the United States until we have a national law in place, grounded in human rights, that will govern this technology,” Smith said, noting that Microsoft has not sold the technology to police departments in the past.
Where the Plans Fall Short
While many have applauded the moves these three companies made, others have noted that there are a lot of places where their plans fall short.
For example, while Microsoft and Amazon have not said if they will stop selling the technology to other government agencies like Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Amazon has also faced extra scrutiny over its decision to limit selling their products to the police to just one year, as many have pointed out that it is unlikely we will have comprehensive national legislation by then.
Others have also noted that Amazon has not said what will happen to the police departments its already sold their facial recognition system to, which is significant because, in February, the head of Amazon Web Services said that the company doesn’t know how many police forces had bought their technology.
Even beyond that, numerous activists have called for the technology to be banned at the federal level, full stop. But regardless of a full ban or just more regulation, it is clear that these three companies believe that there needs to be a framework at the national level.
Especially because, as Smith pointed out, smaller companies will likely rush in and fill the space that these big companies are leaving by stepping out of the law-enforcement market— even if just temporarily.
“If all of the responsible companies in the country cede this market to those that are not prepared to take a stand, we won’t necessarily serve the national interest or the lives of the Black and African-American people of this nation well,” he said. “We need Congress to act, not just tech companies alone.”
But whether or not that will happen anytime soon remains unclear. According to reports, right now there are at least a dozen bills in Congress that address facial recognition either directly or indirectly as part of a larger proposal, though most have bee deprioritized.
There have been a number of efforts at the state and local level, but even those are up in the air, and without a holistic, national framework, not a lot can be expected to change.
See what others are saying: (Business Insider) (CNN) (The Washington Post)
Kathy Griffin, Ethan Klein, More Suspended From Twitter Over Elon Musk Impersonations
Many have pretended to be Musk in an attempt to highlight the potential issues paid-for verifications could cause on the platform.
Musk Takes on Impersonations
Comedian Kathy Griffin and internet personality Ethan Klein are among the many Twitter users that have been permanently suspended for impersonating the platform’s new CEO, Elon Musk.
Impersonation has long been against Twitter’s rules, but on Sunday, the billionaire took the policy a step further by announcing that “any Twitter handles engaging in impersonation without clearly specifying ‘parody’ will be permanently suspended.”
“Previously, we issued a warning before suspension, but now that we are rolling out widespread verification, there will be no warning,” Musk explained. “This will be clearly identified as a condition for signing up to Twitter Blue.”
Musk also said that any user who changes their name will temporarily lose their verification check mark.
The announcement came as many verified users began mocking Musk by changing their name and photo to match his, then tweeting jokes that were either absurd or out of character for the business mogul. Many did this to protest Musk’s plan to charge an $8 monthly subscription fee that would allow any Twitter user to become verified.
Klein was one of many who changed his name to “Elon Musk” and made a photo of the CEO his profile image. The podcast host sent out several jokes, including one referencing the increased use of the N-word on the platform since Musk’s takeover, and another referencing Jeffrey Epstein.
“Even though Jeffrey Epstein committed horrible crimes, I do still miss him on nights like this for his warmth and camaraderie. Rest In Peace old Friend,” he wrote.
His account was quickly banned, but Klein defended himself on TikTok, arguing that both his cover photo and bio labeled his account as “parody” and therefore should be acceptable under Musk’s guidelines.
“What more do you want from me?” he asked. “Comedy is dead. And Elon Musk dug the grave.”
Protests of Musk’s Twitter Control
For her part, Griffin likewise tweeted while masquerading as Musk, writing that after “spirited discussion with the females in my life, I’ve decided that voting blue for their choice is only right.”
Musk joked that she was actually “suspended for impersonating a comedian” and added that she can have her account back if she pays for the $8 subscription. Griffin, however, found another way around the ban.
The comedian logged into her late mother’s Twitter account and began using the hashtag #FreeKathy while calling out Musk.
“Mad Men” actor Rich Sommer and podcaster Griffin Newman have also had their accounts suspended for tweeting as Musk. Other celebrities, including TV producer Shonda Rhimes, musician Sara Bareilles, and model Gigi Hadid have protested Musk’s Twitter reign by leaving the platform altogether.
“For a long time, but especially with its new leadership, it’s becoming more and more of a cesspool of hate & bigotry, and it’s not a place I want to be a part of,” Hadid wrote on Instagram over the weekend.
AOC Says Twitter Notifications “Conveniently” Disabled After Criticizing Musk
“What’s good? Doesn’t seem very free speechy to me,” she tweeted at the new CEO.
AOC Vs. Elon Musk
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) said several of her Twitter features are “conveniently not working” after feuding with the platform’s new owner, billionaire Elon Musk.
Ocasio-Cortez has never been shy about her views on Musk. After he officially took charge of Twitter last week, the congresswoman began criticizing his new proposals for the social networking site, specifically his plan to charge an $8 subscription fee for verification.
“Lmao at a billionaire earnestly trying to sell people on the idea that ‘free speech’ is actually a $8/mo subscription plan,” she wrote on Tuesday.
“Your feedback is appreciated, now pay $8,” Musk replied the following day.
Around an hour later, the business mogul sent another tweet appearing to call Ocasio-Cortez out for selling $58 sweatshirts.
“Proud of this and always will be,” she shot back. “My workers are union, make a living wage, have full healthcare, and aren’t subject to racist treatment in their workplaces. Items are made in USA. Team AOC honors and respects working people. You should try it sometime instead of union-busting.”
In a follow-up tweet, she noted that proceeds go to community organizing programs, including one that tutors students who are falling behind because of COVID-19.
AOC’s Mentions Not Working
On Wednesday evening, just hours after her back-and-forth with Musk, Ocasio-Cortez told her followers that her “Twitter mentions/notifications conveniently aren’t working tonight.”
“I was informed via text that I seem to have gotten under a certain billionaire’s skin,” she added. “Just a reminder that money will never [buy] your way out of insecurity, folks.”
The issue seemingly continued into Thursday morning when the Democrat tweeted a screenshot of her notifications page, which loaded no results.
“Why should people pay $8 just for their app to get bricked when they say something you don’t like?” she tweeted at Musk. “This is what my app has looked like ever since my tweet upset you yesterday. What’s good? Doesn’t seem very free speechy to me.”
Musk has repeatedly claimed that one of his primary motives to buy Twitter was to protect free speech. Once taking the reigns as CEO, though, he did say he would start a content moderation council and make decisions jointly with them.
South Carolina County Votes Against Moving LGBTQ+ Friendly Books Away from Children’s Section
Efforts to limit LGBTQ+ content in libraries first began over the summer.
Attempts to Restrict LGBTQ+ Displays
The county council in Greenville County, South Carolina this week voted against discussing a resolution that would move all books “promoting sexuality” to the adult section.
This resolution is the culmination of months of turmoil in Greenville County. In June, libraries in the county removed Pride displays at the direction of library officials. Then in September, the county’s Republican Party executive board passed a resolution to call on the County Council to restrict access to books with LGBTQ+ themes and characters.
The resolution was proposed by Joe Dill, an outgoing council member, as well as a member of the county’s Republican Party executive board. It proposed the council “officially order that no books or content, including digital copies or online accessible materials, promoting sexuality be allowed in the Children’s Sections of our public libraries.”
However, the resolution required the council to suspend its regular rules in order to discuss it as it was not submitted to the council via committee. The final vote was 9 to 3 against the suspension of the rules and effectively killed the resolution.
Those that voted against it viewed the resolution as an overreach.
“We just do not believe that’s our job to get involved in the library’s business,” Council member Ennis Fett said to a local news outlet. “We appoint a board. We can not set a precedent of micromanaging the library board, because if we do that, then, we will be micromanaging all boards and commissions that we appoint.”
Although the council decided not to get involved, the library still has the final decision to make regarding these books. Their meeting to discuss the matter is scheduled for December 5.