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Microsoft to retire facial recognition tech that can detect emotions, limits access to facial recognition services

Microsoft is “retiring” facial recognition capabilities that infer emotional states and identity attributes such as gender, age, smile, facial hair, hair, and makeup, the tech giant has announced.

It is also limiting access to facial recognition services. 

This is part of the tech giant’s updates to its Responsible AI Standard, “the internal playbook” guiding its AI product development and deployment. 

“As part of aligning our products to this new Standard, we have updated our approach to facial recognition including adding a new Limited Access policy, removing AI classifiers of sensitive attributes, and bolstering our investments in fairness and transparency,” Microsoft said in a blog post.

“We will retire facial analysis capabilities that purport to infer emotional states and identity attributes such as gender, age, smile, facial hair, hair, and makeup. We collaborated with internal and external researchers to understand the limitations and potential benefits of this technology and navigate the trade-off,” it said.

Describing the case of emotion classification specifically, the tech major highlighted the “important questions” raised by the tech about privacy, the lack of consensus on a definition of “emotions”, and the inability to generalise the connection between facial expression and emotional state across use cases, regions, and demographics. 

Checking misuse

“API access to capabilities that predict sensitive attributes also opens up a wide range of ways they can be misused—including subjecting people to stereotyping, discrimination, or unfair denial of services,” it said.

The detection of these attributes will no longer be available to new customers beginning June 21, 2022. Existing customers will have until June 30, 2023, to discontinue use of these attributes before they are retired.

However, recognising the value of these for a “set of controlled accessibility scenarios”, Microsoft said that it remained “committed to supporting technology for people with disabilities and will continue to use these capabilities in support of this goal by integrating them into applications such as Seeing AI.”

Limiting access to facial recognition services

After a transition period for existing customers, it will also be are limiting access to facial recognition services to managed customers and partners, “narrowing the use cases to pre-defined acceptable ones, and leveraging technical controls engineered into the services.”

New customers will need to apply for access to use facial recognition operations in Azure Face API, Computer Vision, and Video Indexer. 

Existing customers will have one year to apply and receive approval for continued access to the facial recognition services based on their provided use cases.

“By introducing Limited Access, we add an additional layer of scrutiny to the use and deployment of facial recognition to ensure use of these services aligns with Microsoft’s Responsible AI Standard and contributes to high-value end-user and societal benefit. This includes introducing use case and customer eligibility requirements to gain access to these services,” it explained.

Starting June 30, 2023, existing customers will no longer be able to access facial recognition capabilities if their facial recognition application has not been approved. 

However, facial detection capabilities including detecting blur, exposure, glasses, head pose, landmarks, noise, occlusion, and facial bounding box will remain generally available and will not require an application.

Published on

June 22, 2022

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