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MIT Technology Review

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

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).