Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) has announced that it will divest its stake in Israeli startup AnyVision whose facial recognition technology is used in Judea and Samaria (West Bank). Microsoft had been concerned that use of the technology did not meet its ethical principles and it appointed an audit committee that although it could not substantiate claims of unethical use, reached the conclusion that its minority stake in AnyVision did not allow it sufficient oversight on the use of its sensitive technology.
The audit committee was set up last year after reports by CNBC and Haaretz that AnyVision's technology is not only installed at West Bank checkpoints but is also used by Israel's security forces for a surveillance program of the Palestinian population. AnyVision denies that its technology is used outside of the checkpoints.
Microsoft's audit committee was headed by former US Attorney General Eric Holder who reached the conclusion that AnyVision's technology is not being used (and has not been used in the past) for mass surveillance of Palestinians in the West Bank. Therefore, the audit committee did not find any breach of Microsoft's ethical principles. The audit committee said that its conclusions were based on interviews with AnyVision's employees, third parties, technical surveys and other documents, a presentation of the technology by the company and visits to its offices in Israel. The committee mentioned that the audit had been limited by legal restrictions that had prevented the uncovering of sensitive information.
Consequently, Microsoft decided to change its investment policy regarding facial recognition and to only invest in companies in which Microsoft has commercial collaboration in order to increase its level of supervision over use of technology. However, Microsoft still decided to divest its stake in AnyVision even though it does have commercial cooperation with the Israeli startup.