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19 Aug 2019

Microsoft criticised for investing in Israeli facial recognition company allegedly conducting surveillance on Palestinians

Some civil society groups and privacy activists are criticising Microsoft's investment in AnyVision, an Israeli facial recognition company which is allegedly carrying out surveillance on Palestinians. In June 2019, Microsoft’s M12 venture capital arm announced it was joining a $78 million Series A funding round for AnyVision. As part of that deal, AnyVision agreed to adopt Microsoft’s six principles on artificial intelligence.

We invited Microsoft to respond; the response is included below.

AnyVision provided the following statement to Forbes: "AnyVision works with both civilian and non-civilian entities across the world, with applications in virtually every sector. We are keenly aware of the benefit and potential that facial recognition technology can provide to society. Likewise, we recognize such powerful technology has the potential to be misused if placed in the wrong hands, and that we have an inherent responsibility to ensure our technology and products are used properly."

On 27 March 2020, Microsoft and AnyVision released a joint statement stating that it is in the best interest for both companies for Microsoft to divest its shareholding in AnyVision. This follows an audit by Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and his team at Covington & Burling that found that AnyVision’s technology has not previously and does not currently power a mass surveillance program in the West Bank. Microsoft also announced that, "By making a global change to its investment policies to end minority investments in companies that sell facial recognition technology, Microsoft’s focus has shifted to commercial relationships that afford Microsoft greater oversight and control over the use of sensitive technologies."

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