Microsoft stops selling technology to read facial emotions

OAKLAND, California –

On Tuesday, Microsoft said it would stop selling technology that guesses someone’s emotions based on images of a face and will no longer provide unrestricted access to facial recognition technology.

The actions reflect efforts by leading cloud providers to rein in sensitive technologies on their own as lawmakers in the United States and Europe continue to weigh comprehensive regulatory limitations.

Since at least last year, Microsoft has been looking at whether emotion recognition systems are rooted in science.

“These efforts have raised important privacy questions, the lack of consensus on the definition of ’emotion’, and the inability to generalize the link between facial expressions and emotional states in use cases, regions, and demographics,” Sarah Bird, lead product of the management team at Microsoft’s Azure AI unit, said in a blog post.

Existing customers will have a year before losing access to artificial intelligence tools that aim to infer emotions, gender, age, smiles, facial expressions, hair and makeup.

Alphabet Inc’s Google Cloud last year embarked on a similar review, as first reported by Reuters. Google blocked 13 planned emotions from its emotion reading tool and took into consideration four existing emotions, such as joy and sadness. It is considering a new system that could describe movements such as frowning and smiling, without trying to associate them with an emotion.

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

Microsoft also says customers now must be approved to use its facial recognition service, which can let people log into websites or open locked doors through facial scanning.

The company urges customers to avoid situations that invade privacy or where technology could be difficult, such as identifying minors, but does not explicitly prohibit such uses.

(Reporting by Paresh Dave; Editing by David Gregorio)

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