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Microsoft to end investments in Israeli facial recognition firm

Tech giant to pull investments from AnyVision, which is used at West Bank military checkpoints to spy on Palestinians

Occupied Palestine (QNN)- Microsoft has pulled its investment out of an Israeli facial recognition startup that made headlines last year for surveilling native Palestinians, the tech giant said Friday. Microsoft also said it would halt any minority investments in companies selling facial-recognition technology.

Microsoft’s decision came following calls by human rights activists and The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement to stop its investment in the Israeli firm following an NBC News report about the company’s relationship with the occupation and apartheid policy in the occupied West Bank.

Microsoft claims that an independent investigation led by former US Attorney General Eric Holder and his team at international law firm Covington & Burling found that “AnyVision’s technology has not previously and does not currently power a mass surveillance program in the West Bank that has been alleged in media reports.” The tech giant, however, decided to end its investments in AnyVision and to no longer make minority investments in any facial recognition firms “since such investments do not generally allow for the level of oversight or control that Microsoft exercises over the use of its own technology,” according to an announcement on the website of the company’s M12 venture arm.

“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,” the announcement goes on to say.

While Microsoft is stepping away from funding facial recognition firms, it does still have a facial recognition technology of its own through its Azure cloud computing platform. The Face API, as it’s called, allows any developer to “embed facial recognition into your apps for a seamless and highly secured user experience.” However, the company’s chief legal officer, Brad Smith, said last year that Microsoft would never sell facial recognition for surveillance purposes, and Smith has gone on the record saying it’s denied law enforcement access to the technology over concerns it would contribute to civil and human rights abuses.

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