IBM is dropping facial recognition software from its portfolio amid concerns over racial profiling and surveillance.

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CEO Arvind Krishna informed Congress, saying IBM “firmly opposes and will not condone uses of any technology; including facial recognition technology offered by other vendors, for mass surveillance [and] racial profiling.”

The technology giant made the announcement on Monday when Krishna sent a letter to lawmakers. In it he urged for a national discussion on whether domestic law enforcement agencies should be allowed to use facial recognition technology at all.


“IBM firmly opposes and will not condone uses of any technology, including facial recognition 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,” Krishna wrote.

Krishna took over as CEO in April. He noted that while artificial intelligence can be a powerful tool for safety, the technology needs to be tested for bias.

A Technological Awakening

Krishna is not alone in his concerns and he is not the first major technology leader to express severe misgivings about facial recognition.

Microsoft’s President Brad Smith in late 2018 urged governments to start regulating the technology.

“The facial recognition genie, so to speak, is just emerging from the bottle. Unless we act, we risk waking up five years from now to find that facial recognition services have spread in ways that exacerbate societal issues. By that time, these challenges will be much more difficult to bottle back up.”

The announcement follows the global protests over the death of George Floyd and other persons of color by law enforcement.

Krishna said he is willing to work with lawmakers on enacting police reform legislation that promotes racial equity.

It’s not clear if IBM dropped facial recognition for ethical reasons or because it wasn’t making any money. However, IBM had published a “Diversity in Faces” data set of one million faces in January 2019 to train facial recognition A.I.’s with the explicit aim of tackling bias.)

Krishna’s letter came as the company provided a detailed set of policy proposals to “advance racial equality in our nation”.

Among many things, IBM is proposing that Congress should “bring more police misconduct cases under federal court purview and should make modifications to the qualified immunity doctrine that prevents individuals from seeking damages when police violate their constitutional rights.”