Google commits to not selling general-purpose facial recognition product

Google Thursday said it would not sell facial recognition surveillance products without first addressing the drawbacks and potential abuse of the technology.

“Facial recognition technology has benefits in areas like new assistive technologies and tools to help find missing persons, with more promising applications on the horizon. However, 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,” Kent Walker, Google senior vice president of global affairs, said in a blog post.

He detailed the potential benefits of AI and announcing a grant to be used in the creation of an Asia Pacific AI for Social Good Research Network. “We continue to work with many organizations to identify and address these challenges, and unlike some other companies, Google Cloud has chosen not to offer general-purpose facial recognition APIs before working through important technology and policy questions," he said.

Google drew praise from rights activists.

“This is a strong first step. Google today demonstrated that, unlike other companies doubling down on efforts to put dangerous face surveillance technology into the hands of law enforcement and ICE, it has a moral compass and is willing to take action to protect its customers and communities,” Nicole Ozer, technology and civil liberties director for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of California, said in a release.

“Google also made clear that all companies must stop ignoring the grave harms these surveillance technologies pose to immigrants and people of color, and to our freedom to live our lives, visit a church, or participate in a protest without being tracked by the government," he added.

Ozer said the ACLU“will continue to put Google's feet to the fire to make sure it doesn't build or sell a face surveillance product that violates civil and human rights” and renewed its call for “Amazon and Microsoft to not provide dangerous face surveillance to the government.”

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