Microsoft says unregulated facial recognition risks ‘1984’-like future

Microsoft is ratcheting up its call for government regulation of facial recognition technologies by warning that they could pave the way for a "1984"-like dystopia if left unchecked. "Unless we act, we risk waking up five years from now to find that facial recognition services have spread in ways that exacerbate societal issues," Microsoft President … Continue reading “Microsoft says unregulated facial recognition risks ‘1984’-like future”

Microsoft is ratcheting up its call for government regulation of facial recognition technologies by warning that they could pave the way for a "1984"-like dystopia if left unchecked.

"Unless we act, we risk waking up five years from now to find that facial recognition services have spread in ways that exacerbate societal issues," Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith wrote in a Thursday blog post. "We must ensure that the year 2024 doesn't look like a page from the novel '1984.'"

In the 3,500-word blog post, Smith urges the world's lawmakers to act before facial recognition systems can be widely abused. Imagine security cameras installed across cities that can identify you and then track your whereabouts — all without your permission. Government agencies could exploit these systems to unleash mass surveillance on an unprecedented scale, Smith wrote.

It isn't enough for the tech industry to regulate itself, he added. Business incentives might override any ethical concerns companies have when developing and selling facial recognition systems.

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  • "We don't believe that the world will be best served by a commercial race to the bottom, with tech companies forced to choose between social responsibility and market success," Smith wrote. "We believe that the only way to protect against this race to the bottom is to build a floor of responsibility that supports healthy market competition."

    The call for regulation may sound odd coming from Microsoft, a company that has historically pushed back on government attempts to control its business. But back in July, Microsoft said the potential dangers of facial recognition technology were too serious to ignore, and that US lawmakers needed to act.

    Smith's lengthy blog post goes over how governments might rein in the technologies. For instance, police officers should be required to obtain a warrant when using facial recognition systems to track a specific individual.

    To set an example, Microsoft is publishing and adopting six principles for the ethical development of facial recognition technologies. One principle specifically bans Microsoft technologies from ever being used for "unlawful discrimination." Another forbids the systems from being deployed in scenarios where Microsoft believes freedoms will be put at risk.

    "We should not wait for governments to act," Smith added. "We and other tech companies need to start creating safeguards to address facial recognition technology."

    Microsoft plans on gathering feedback on the principles before implementing them in the first quarter of 2019.

    This article originally appeared on PCMag.com.

    Microsoft helps police shut down fake tech-support centers in India

    Microsoft has been working with police in India to shut down fake tech-support centers in the country that are scamming victims in the US and Canada.

    On Tuesday and Wednesday, police in the Indian capital of New Delhi raided 16 fake tech-support centers, which were located with the help of Microsoft, according to The New York Times. Three dozen people were arrested in the raids.

    The fake tech-support centers swept up in the raids made thousands of dollars by sending out pop-up ads over the internet that claimed users' computers had been infected with a virus. Victims who fell for the scheme would phone the fake Microsoft tech support centers, which would then offer repair services ranging in price from $99 to $1,000.

    The raids come a month after Microsoft published a survey that found more than 3 in 5 consumers have encountered the tech-support scams. In addition to pop-up warnings, the fraudsters have been using phone calls, emails, and website redirects to trick users into thinking their computers are infected with a virus or spyware.

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  • According to Microsoft's survey, 1 in 5 consumers have lost money in tech-support scams. The problem is so widespread that the company said it receives about 11,000 complaints about the scams each month.

    The company also told the Times that Microsoft spots about 150,000 pop-up ads related to the scams every day. To fight back, the company has been dedicating resources to help authorities track down fake call centers in India, where the company says many of fake tech support scams are based.

    The recent raids are a good reminder to be vigilant around shady pop-ups and other "scareware," which tries to frighten you into thinking your computer has been compromised. One study estimates the tech-support scams have been lucrative enough to extract "tens of million of dollars" in losses from consumers each year. Microsoft has a page with tips on how you can protect yourself.

    This article originally appeared on PCMag.com.