Microsoft Corp. said on Friday that it would sell its stake in AnyVision, an Israeli facial recognition startup, saying it would no longer make minority investments in companies selling the controversial technology. The decision marks a policy change in Redmond, a Washington-based software maker, who has sought to shape how the technology industry approaches facial recognition. Microsoft has set out principles to guide the proprietary development of the technology, saying it should perform without bias and should not compromise democratic freedoms.
Civil liberties groups have said that police use of facial recognition can lead to unfair, arbitrary arrests and limit freedom of expression. Microsoft came under scrutiny last summer for participating in a $ 74 million round of funding for AnyVision, which critics contradicted the company’s principles.
Based outside Tel Aviv, AnyVision was scrutinized after media reports that its technology was used to monitor Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank. Microsoft later hired former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and a team from Covington & Burling to investigate the claims. The law firm discovered that AnyVision’s technology was in use at checkpoints at border crossings between Israel and the West Bank – as the startup had said – but that it had not fueled a massive surveillance program there, according to a copy of the audit findings posted on the website of M12, Microsoft’s venture fund.
Nonetheless, Microsoft said as a result of the probe, it decided to stop investing in facial recognition startups. “For Microsoft, the audit process amplified the challenges of being a minority investor in a company that sells sensitive technology, as such investments generally do not allow the level of oversight or control Microsoft exercises over the use of its own technology,” Microsoft and AnyVision said in a joint statement on the M12 website.
Microsoft did not have a timeline to share when the divestment will take place and who will buy its stake, a spokesman said. It was not immediately clear whether other M12 investments were affected by the policy change. AnyVision did not respond immediately.
While Microsoft has rejected a number of facial recognition sales under human rights, such as denying a deal capital to a country that the nonprofit Freedom House said was not free, it continues to develop the software for other commercial and public use. Microsoft said nothing has changed in the internal work on facial recognition.
(This story has not been edited by staff and is automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)