Microsoft is lobbying for the law, sponsored by state senator Reuven Carlyle, while Amazon has requested some clarifications and changes.
Two months after asking for laws to regulate facial recognition software, Microsoft is lobbying for a law of its kind in the state of Washington. The question is whether the rival of crosstown Amazon will support him.
Amazon asked the account sponsor, Senator Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, for some clarifications and changes in areas such as the requirement that AI software vendors who claim to identify faces open their product to third parties who want to test it, Carlyle said .
Carlyle has reviewed requests for reformulation and modification of the bill by various parties, including Amazon, and on Thursday will present a revised version of its proposal.
"It's fair to say that Amazon has a deep skepticism and concern about significant restrictions on facial recognition – it's clearly a key technology for their long-term business strategy," said Carlyle. The company wants to preserve its ability to innovate, he said. However, "they made it clear that their goal is to try and reach a place where they can support legislation".
Artificial intelligence software is becoming an increasingly important business for some of the largest technology companies in the United States and China. Some of the companies and advocacy groups are interested in technology, particularly products that track and classify people for their facial features, are biased and can compromise privacy.
Amazon in particular has discussed with critics about its software. Governments are now taking the first steps towards regulation.
The opening of third-party testing software is one of the key parts of the bill, said Microsoft president and chief legal officer Brad Smith in an interview. Every company that makes this type of software should support it, he said.
The opposite evidence is "like a car company that opposes airbag testing," Smith said. "Why should a company oppose the public having the ability to know if its services work well? The public has the right to evaluate these services and the responsible companies should recognize the importance of this type of third-party testing."
Amazon declined to comment on whether it will support the legislation because it is still undergoing change. The company published a blog post on Thursday with its ideas on how to govern facial recognition software. For example, the company said that when the forces of the order use the software, the people in those agencies need to review the results to make sure that civil liberties are not violated. Amazon also said it supports the standardized tests of facial recognition software.
"It is crucial that any legislation protects civil rights while allowing for continuous innovation and the practical application of technology," wrote Michael Punke, vice president of global public policy at Amazon Web Services.
Washington's state law would also require several other steps suggested by Microsoft Smith in a December blog, including a simple English language that explains what programs do, an obvious notification to customers when they are analyzed by the software and the requirement for a significant revision in any "Final decisions based on such profiling where such final decisions produce legal effects on consumers or similar significant effects for consumers." It would also prohibit continuous surveillance using software without a court order, except in emergencies where there is a risk to human life or serious injury.
Carlyle plans a meeting at the beginning of next week to discuss the proposal and invited companies and defense groups. He hopes to move the bill off the committee at the end of next week.
While legislation, part of a broader privacy law, is being considered in Washington, it would not only affect companies based around Amazon and Microsoft, but any company that operates in the state and processes data of 100,000 or more consumers or gets half their income from the sale of personal data.
"If it passes, it takes an important and very necessary step to be a normative foundation for facial recognition technology and to create a model that can be considered by other states and countries," Smith said of Washington's law. The law can also serve as a model for others, even if it does not pass, Smith said.
Amazon and Microsoft have seen their AI programs for facial recognition controlled by third parties, including MIT Media Lab researcher Joy Buolamwini and the American Civil Liberties Union.
Presented with the discovery that facial recognition software behaved worse on darker face images, especially women, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella ordered his researchers and engineers to fix the product.
Amazon has discussed the reports, saying that researchers have not properly tested the software or used settings that are not accurate enough to be those recommended by the company for critical applications such as order forces.