News & Opinion | June 9, 2020 11:35 am

IBM Will No Longer Offer or Develop Facial Recognition Tech

In a letter to Congress, the tech giant's CEO outlines new ideas "in pursuit of justice and racial equity"

Facial recognition
John Lund / Getty Images

Tech giant IBM will no longer offer or develop facial recognition or analysis software, as IBM CEO Arvind Krishna said in a new letter to Congress.

“IBM 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,” as Krishna wrote, in a letter addressed to two Senators (Kamala Harris and Cory Booker) and three Representatives.

The company offers specifics as it relates to them with the “responsible use of technology” plea. As noted, IBM will no longer offer general purpose IBM facial recognition or analysis software, or condone the use of similar technology offered by other vendors for “mass surveillance, racial profiling, violations of basic human rights and freedoms, or any purpose which is not consistent with our values and Principles of Trust and Transparency.”

The letter also suggests the potential use and misuse of artificial intelligence, with a stated need to test AI for bias, particularly when used in law enforcement. As well, Krishna calls for technology to bring about greater transparency to policing in regards to body cameras and data analytics.

As The Verge points out, research in 2018 on facial recognition systems (including those by IBM) found large error rates when dividing subjects by gender and skin color. “All companies [using the software] perform better on lighter subjects as a whole than on darker subjects as a whole with an 11.8% – 19.2% difference in error rates,” as the study notes.

Other companies under scrutiny for using facial recognition software include Facebook and Amazon. IBM itself faced backlash last year for using Flickr Creative Commons photos to test out facial recognition.

Subscribe here for our free daily newsletter.