In the past few months, governments, companies, consumer advocates, and individuals have put an increasing amount of scrutiny on facial recognition companies. The concern arose because of Clearview AI, a previously secretive startup that was revealed to be mining data to identify people in public for law enforcement. During this time, companies with investments in other facial recognition startups have begun investigating whether or not they want to continue in those businesses. One of those companies is Microsoft, which had a minority investment in AnyVision.
AnyVision was an equally secretive startup that Microsoft invested in before the idea that facial recognition companies would violate the public trust. However, after Clearview AI came a report from NBC News that AnyVision was involved in a military contract to surveil Palestinians. That prompted Microsoft to do its own investigation into the company in order to determine whether or not the company violates Microsoft's ethics guidelines.
Microsoft hired former US Attorney General Eric Holder to lead the investigation. This week, the results of the investigation were revealed. They showed that the NBC News report was mistaken and that AnyVision was not involved in Palestinian surveillance. However, Microsoft also announced that the end result of the investigation is that the company was divesting from its investment in AnyVision. In the statement, they said,
AnyVision technology has not previously and does not currently power a mass surveillance program in the West Bank that has been alleged in media reports.
They also intend to suspend any future investments in companies that focus on facial recognition. Both moves are not directly related to the actual investigation results, but more because of the fact that the investigation needed to be performed in the first place. Microsoft believes that there is no way to accurately monitor the culture and behaviors of facial recognition companies, and as such, there is no way to ensure that the companies align with Microsoft's ethics and corporate mission.