Skip to Content
Artificial intelligence

Google says it won’t sell face recognition for now—but it will be hard to slow its use

December 14, 2018

Google says it won't offer face recognition through its cloud APIs—that is, until it can come up with policies to  prevent misuses of the technology, it said in a blog post today

Asia specific: Significantly, the decision was announced in a blog post about the use of Google’s AI tools in Asia. Face recognition is being deployed rapidly in China by many of the country’s big AI companies. Some Chinese face-scanning tools were built using government ID data, and the authorities are using them to find criminals and track dissidents.

About face: The news also comes not long after a report from AI Now, a nonprofit, singled out face recognition as a technology that needs to be regulated because of its potential as a tool of surveillance and repression. “The role of AI in widespread surveillance has expanded immensely in the U.S., China, and many other countries worldwide,” the report warned.

“Key questions”: Kent Walker, senior VP of Global Affairs, wrote: “Like many technologies with multiple uses, facial recognition merits careful consideration to ensure its use is aligned with our principles and values, and avoids abuse and harmful outcomes. We continue to work with many organizations to identify and address these challenges.”

Face facts: This is a laudable move by Google. The company has said that it will develop AI ethically, but it has already faced strong criticism for supplying AI to the military. That said, it  will do little to curb the spread and use of face recognition. Dozens of other companies, including other big US firms like Amazon and Microsoft, will be happy to provide you with face recognition software. What’s more—as a quick search of Github shows—the tools required to build a face identifying system from scratch are widely available.

Global issue: As concerns grow over the ethical implications of AI, some countries are calling for a coordinated international debate about ethical standards. Face recognition would surely be top of the agenda for any such discussion, but given the growing use of the technology in China, it could prove an awkward issue to face up to (sorry).

Deep Dive

Artificial intelligence

open sourcing language models concept
open sourcing language models concept

Meta has built a massive new language AI—and it’s giving it away for free

Facebook’s parent company is inviting researchers to pore over and pick apart the flaws in its version of GPT-3

images created by Google Imagen
images created by Google Imagen

The dark secret behind those cute AI-generated animal images

Google Brain has revealed its own image-making AI, called Imagen. But don't expect to see anything that isn't wholesome.

Yann LeCun
Yann LeCun

Yann LeCun has a bold new vision for the future of AI

One of the godfathers of deep learning pulls together old ideas to sketch out a fresh path for AI, but raises as many questions as he answers.

AGI is just chatter for now concept
AGI is just chatter for now concept

The hype around DeepMind’s new AI model misses what’s actually cool about it

Some worry that the chatter about these tools is doing the whole field a disservice.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.