Microsoft is selling its shares in facial recognition firm AnyVision, following allegations the company’s software was being used for West Bank mass surveillance.
Microsoft previously invested $74 million in AnyVision, a facial recognition company that provides software for the Israeli military to use at border crossings. However, there were reports the software was secretly being used in a wide scale effort to monitor and surveil Palestinians throughout the West Bank. Given that compliance with Microsoft’s facial recognition principles was part of the investment, Microsoft exercised its right to audit AnyVision and hired Attorney General Eric Holder to perform it.
In a joint statement by AnyVision and Microsoft, the results of the audit by Holder and his law firm, Covington & Burling, were revealed. The audit determined that “the available evidence demonstrated 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. As such, Covington could not substantiate a breach of the Microsoft Global Finance Portfolio Company Pledge on Facial Recognition.”
In spite of the findings, Microsoft and AnyVision have decided to part ways, with Microsoft selling its shares in the company. According to the statement, “for Microsoft, the audit process reinforced the challenges of being a minority investor in a company that sells sensitive technology, since such investments do not generally allow for the level of oversight or control that Microsoft exercises over the use of its own technology. 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.”