Google seems to be trying to distinguishing itself from the likes of Microsoft and Amazon with a recent statement claiming it will not sell its facial recognition technology until it figures out certain policy issues.
In a blog post about Google’s AI work in Asia published on Thursday, Kent Walker, senior vice president of global affairs, noted Google’s current outlook on facial recognition as an example of how Google is considering “responsible development of AI.”
Walker writes that, “facial recognition merits careful consideration to ensure its use is aligned with our principles and values, and avoids abuse and harmful outcomes.”
Then he seemed to throw shade on other Big Tech companies selling facial recognition services: “We continue to work with many organisations 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.”
Of course it’s unclear how Google will determine when those “important” questions have been worked through. But even if this statement is virtue signalling meant to stir good publicity, it’s still being praised by privacy advocates—like ACLU tech and civil liberty attorney Jake Now:
— Jake Snow (@snowjake) December 13, 2018
The tech and civil liberty director of ACLU, Nicole Ozer, also praised the move in a public statement. “This is a strong first step,” said Ozer. “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 [Immigration and Customs Enforcement], it has a moral compass and is willing to take action to protect its customers and communities.”
Though it is worth noting that Google’s moral compass—if you want to call it that—has recently been guided by public and employee backlash to the company’s efforts to provide artificial intelligence (AI) for analysing drone footage to the U.S. Department of Defence. After public protests, Google decided not to renew the contract for Project Maven.
Google workers have also protested against the company’s Dragonfly project–a proposed censor-friendly search engine for China, which some employees believe would violate Google’s AI principles.
In the wake of those controversies, it certainly behoves Google to take a moral stand against unethical use of AI.