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Why Tech Firms Want (Some) Facial Recognition Rules

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If there’s been a constant in the tech industry’s approach to the idea of regulating new products, it’s been the twin mantras of “leave us alone, we’ll take care of it” and “don’t make rules that will harm innovation.” But now there’s an exception: facial recognition. Governments around the world -- with the huge exception of China -- are also pondering rules to rein in this branch of artificial intelligence. Questions include whether any regulations would go as far as privacy advocates argue is needed -- and whether changes could be made before the technology is too ubiquitous to put back in the bottle.

Alphabet Inc. chief Sundar Pichai recently said it was important that government and regulation “tackles it sooner rather than later.” Microsoft Corp. was among the first of the tech giants to urge governments to push ahead with regulation of facial recognition, advocating for human review and oversight of the technology in some critical cases, as a way to mitigate the risks of biased outcomes, intrusions into privacy and democratic freedoms. Amazon backed that call. But both companies have opposed bills they feel go too far.