Microsoft’s Satya Nadella calls for facial recognition regulation

24 Jan 2019

Satya Nadella. Image: Stuart Isett/Fortune Brainstorm TECH/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Speaking at the World Economic Forum at Davos, Satya Nadella warned about the outcomes of a failure to regulate facial recognition technology.

The World Economic Forum is in full swing in Davos, with political and business leaders discussing technological and social developments.

One such leader, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, discussed a topic the company has brought up on numerous occasions: facial recognition technology.

A need for outside regulation

Addressing an audience at the event, Nadella echoed the remarks of Microsoft’s president, Brad Smith, on the need for facial recognition to be regulated. As the technology becomes increasingly prevalent, Nadella said it may not be enough that tech companies simply regulate themselves.

He said: “One of the things that I feel today is, in the marketplace, there’s competition; there’s no discrimination between the right use and the wrong use of facial recognition.” Nadella did not discount the importance of self-regulation to ensure the use of facial recognition technology was “fair and robust”, but said that government rules would also be useful.

Describing the potential for a race to the bottom in the marketplace without regulation, the CEO warned that “even more heavy-handed regulatory regimes” may come about if nothing is done.

Issues with facial recognition are well documented

There are several issues experts cite when it comes to the misuse and potential flaws of facial recognition technology. These range from its possible use as a government surveillance tool, to its use in increasing discriminatory targeting of people of colour by law enforcement officials.

Last month, Smith warned that “a government could use facial recognition technology to enable continuous surveillance of specific individuals”. He added: “It could follow anyone anywhere – or, for that matter, everyone everywhere. It could do this at any time or even all the time. This use of facial recognition technology could unleash mass surveillance on an unprecedented scale.”

In July of 2018, Smith also wrote an op-ed about his concerns, noting that new regulations were necessary due to the “broad societal ramifications and potential for abuse” that come with unregulated innovation.

Addressing World Economic Forum attendees, Nadella said that Microsoft has “principles to build it and make sure [there are] fair and robust uses of the technology”.

Nadella also praised the EU’s GDPR, describing it as a “fantastic start”. He added: “I am hopeful that in the United States we will have something that’s along the same lines. In fact, I hope that the world over we all converge on a common standard.”

Satya Nadella. Image: Stuart Isett/Fortune Brainstorm TECH/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects