Microsoft Hires Obama’s AG to Investigate Israeli Hi Tech Outfit

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Photo Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. Sept. 25, 2014.

Microsoft has hired US Attorney General under President Barack Obama Eric Holder to investigate whether AnyVision, an Israeli company in which Microsoft’s M12 venture fund invested last June, violated the technology giant’s ethics regarding facial recognition technology.

In October, Youths from the village of Kober, northwest of Ramallah, posted a video and photos showing a camouflaged video camera that was hidden inside a concrete block by Israeli security forces in the village cemetery. According to Ma’an, the surveillance device was made by the Holon-based Israeli company AnyVision (“We build the future, Pixel by Pixel”), which specializes in facial recognition technology (See: Ramallah Youths’ Discovery of IDF Camouflaged Surveillance Camera May Hurt Microsoft Startup).

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A Microsoft spokesperson said on Saturday that Holder’s team, comprised of former federal prosecutors, “will move quickly, reviewing documents and conducting on the ground interviews with AnyVision employees and others to ensure a full and thorough investigation.”

AnyVision concept image / AnyVision’s website

According to NBC News, Microsoft’s venture fund invested in AnyVision as part of a $74 million Series A funding round, which stipulated that AnyVision would abide by Microsoft’s ethical principles, and be compelled to “advocate for safeguards for people’s democratic freedoms in law enforcement surveillance scenarios.”

But by mid-July, Haaretz reported that the IDF is using AnyVision’s face recognition technology at Judea and Samaria checkpoints as well as inside Arab communities, leading to a wave of criticism of Microsoft’s investment in AnyVision.

A spokesman for AnyVision said that his company’s facial recognition systems at the green line crossings “work in the same way and for the same purposes as they do in airports, for example. […] The other advantage is that they provide an unbiased safeguard at the border to detect and deter persons who have committed unlawful activities.”

CNET on Saturday listed past embarrassments experienced by Microsoft with a similar tang: In February, Microsoft employees demanding dropping a multimillion dollar HoloLens contract with the US Army, because saying they refused to create “technology for warfare and oppression.” And in June, Microsoft took down a massive database used to train facial recognition systems that had been linked to China’s crackdown on its ethnic Muslims.

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