Microsoft announced it will stop developing and distributing controversial emotion-reading software as big tech companies pivot toward privacy and security. The company also says it will heavily restrict its own facial recognition platform.
The estrangement from microsoft of emotional recognition software is another sign of Big Tech’s increasing prioritization of privacy. The company also admits that there is little scientific evidence behind the technology.
“Experts inside and outside the company have highlighted a lack of scientific consensus on the definition of emotions,” wrote Natasha Crampton, director of artificial intelligence at Microsoft, in a statement. company blog post. “…and the biggest privacy concerns around this type of capability.”
Facial emotion recognition software uses advanced AI to determine the emotional state of a subject. It compares a subject’s facial expressions, the size of their pupils, the shape of their mouth, and other visual cues against a database of thousands of photos of people with different known emotions. The AI then assigns an emotion to the subject.
Microsoft and other tech companies have been working on the technology for several years, along with facial recognition software. The company is making a sudden change to what they call “Microsoft Responsible AI Standard«.
Along with the end of emotion recognition technology, Microsoft will join Google and others in restricting access to facial recognition software. Microsoft will establish transparency guidelines and what it calls “guardrails” to ensure customers using facial recognition do so in an ethical manner.
Google stopped selling facial recognition products in 2018, citing the need for safer policies around technology. IBM stopped supplying government and law enforcement agencies with facial recognition technology in 2020 following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Meta (the company formerly known as Facebook) shut down its facial recognition programming in 2021 and stopped identifying people in photos uploaded to Facebook.
Azure Face, the artificial intelligence system that Microsoft built to provide facial recognition capabilities, is used primarily by private companies in healthcare and research, and is used by some local government agencies to track people in public. Although Microsoft does not publish exact details about its customers, the data shows at least 356 Current Azure Face subscribers.
Microsoft facial recognition customers will have one year and then lose access to Azure Face.