IBM sunsets general purpose facial recognition tech to avoid abuse

Like any other tool such as a hammer or a knife, technology can be used not only for good but also for harm. Facial recognition, in particular, is often promoted as a convenient security measure but it can also be misused and abused for things like mass surveillance or racial profiling. Given the sensitivity of these topics in the past few days, IBM has made a public letter to the US Congress calling out such activities and ending its sale and development of its face recognition products until more favorable laws and systems are in place.

Like many tech companies, IBM called out the problems of racial discrimination and inequality that has erupted into mass protests not only in the US but elsewhere in the world. The century-old tech giant is calling for reforms in the police system as well as the economic sector at large.

IBM's boldest statement, however, is on the responsible use of technologies, specifically facial recognition technologies. This has become a go-to solution for law enforcement in identifying suspects or fugitives but has also become an avenue for abuse by those same authorities.

One clear example, no pun intended, is Clearview AI, a private company specializing in facial recognition that has come under fire for crawling social media sites for data. Clearview's customers are law enforcement agencies across the US and its technology is reportedly now being used to identify protesters across the country.

Both in protest as well as to prevent its misuse, IBM is ceasing all work on its general purpose facial recognition products and is calling for national policies that will prevent AI tools from being used for harm. Of course, IBM, while big, is just one of the many companies developing such technologies but perhaps its move will be followed by the likes of Google and Amazon as well.