In Wake of Floyd's Death, IBM Shuts Down Facial Recognition Business

The tech giant's CEO says the company will not condone use of any technology for mass surveillance, racial profiling, or violations of basic human rights and freedoms

IBM CEO Arvind Krishna. Photo:

As anti-racism protests continued across the US, IBM CEO Arvind Krishna said June 8 that his company has exited the facial recognition technology business and seeks to work with the Congress for the responsible use of technology as part of the pursuit of equality and justice. 

His comments came in a letter addressed to sponsors and co-sponsors of a police reform bill unveiled by Congressional Democrats that day, amid national reckoning over the killing of George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis.   

"IBM no longer offers general purpose IBM facial recognition or analysis software. IBM firmly opposes and will not condone uses of any technology, including facial recognition technology offered by other vendors, for mass surveillance, racial profiling, violations of basic human rights and freedoms, or any purpose which is not consistent with our values and Principles of Trust and Transparency," Krishna said. 

"We believe now is the time to begin a national dialogue on whether and how facial recognition technology should be employed by domestic law enforcement agencies," the CEO added. 

Krishna noted that artificial intelligence can help law enforcement keep citizens safe, but users and vendors "have a shared responsibility to ensure that Al is tested for bias, particularity when used in law enforcement, and that such bias testing is audited and reported."

Technologies such as data analytics techniques and body cameras that enhance transparency and accountability in policing should be promoted in national policy, according to the CEO.

MSNBC quoted a source as saying the IBM decision, both an ethical and business one, was notable for a tech powerhouse that counts the US government as a major customer. The source also said facial recognition business did not generate significant revenue for the company. 

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