Microsoft claims its facial recognition technology just got a little less awful. Earlier this year, a study by MIT researchers found that tools from IBM, Microsoft, and Chinese company Megvii could correctly identify light-skinned men with 99-percent accuracy. But it incorrectly identified darker-skinned women as often as one-third of the time. Now imagine a computer incorrectly flagging an image at an airport or in a police database, and you can see how dangerous those errors could be. Microsoft's software performed poorly in the study.
Amazon has some explaining to do. The online retail giant has been caught providing facial recognition technology to law enforcement in Oregon and Orlando, according to documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union through a Freedom of Information Act Request. Emails obtained through the request show how Amazon has been advertising and selling its facial recognition product, Rekognition, for only a few dollars a month to law enforcement agencies -- in the hopes that they would encourage other agencies to sign up. The emails also show Amazon has marketed consulting services to law enforcement as well. SEE ALSO: What would an Amazon Alexa robot look like?
Who will guard the guards? Amazon has released guidelines for facial recognition software that it wants lawmakers to consider when crafting legislation. With the post, Amazon joins Microsoft in calling for regulation of the technology, and notably, its application in law enforcement. SEE ALSO: Amazon's Ring has been reportedly spying on customers Notably, as the ACLU points out, Amazon's suggestions place the burden of "misuse" of the technology onto the people using the tech -- not onto the manufacturer, Amazon. "Proposing a weak framework does not absolve Amazon of responsibility for its face surveillance product," Neema Singh Guliani, ACLU senior legislative counsel, told Mashable over email.
What is AI? Everything you need to know about Artificial Intelligence As lawmakers consider ways to ensure that nascent facial recognition tools don't curtail civil liberties, Amazon is stepping in with a few suggestions. The Seattle tech giant on Thursday published a blog post with five proposed guidelines for the responsible use of facial recognition technology. The suggestions come at a delicate time for Amazon: The company in the past year has come under fire for selling Rekognition, an image recognition and analysis service, to law enforcement agencies, even though researchers claim it shows gender and ethnic biases. Meanwhile, in the absence of federal rules, lawmakers in Amazon's home state of Washington are considering their own bill to regulate facial recognition use. Microsoft -- also headquartered in Washington state, is actively lobbying for the state bill -- Bloomberg reports.
It's unclear how many law-enforcement groups are currently using Amazon's technology; it has been used by police departments in Florida and Oregon. An Amazon spokesperson said the company doesn't share customers' names or use cases without their permission. The company also said it supports "calls for an appropriate national legislative framework that protects individual civil rights and ensures that governments are transparent in their use of facial recognition technology." Amazon is the latest major tech company to indicate its support for such legislation. Microsoft has also said it is in favor of laws that regulate how facial-recognition technology can be used.