Investors call for ethical approach to facial recognition technology

Visitors check their phones behind screens advertising facial recognition software during the Global Mobile Internet Conference at the National Convention in Beijing, China on April 27, 2018. REUTERS / Damir Sagolj

Group of 50 investors with over $ 4.5 trillion in assets call on companies involved in the development and use of facial recognition technology, such as Amazon (AMZN.O) and Facebook (FB.O) , to do so ethically. .

The investor group, led by asset manager Candriam, a European division of US financial services firm New York Life, said in a statement that the technology could infringe an individual’s privacy rights , given the lack of consent of the identified persons, and that there is often no official control.

The initiative shows how fund managers are increasingly tackling political issues that were once seen as fringe topics for shareholders as retail investors pour billions of dollars into funds focused on ethical and sustainability criteria.

Human rights activists say facial recognition technology, which can be used to unlock smartphones or verify bank accounts, can also be used by governments to track citizens and quell political dissent.

The investor group said it would begin a two-year engagement process with companies developing or using the technology. He said he sees 34 companies as leaders in facial recognition, including Amazon, Facebook, and Asian tech companies Alibaba (9988.HK) and Huawei (HWT.UL).

An Amazon spokesperson declined to comment. The other companies did not immediately comment when contacted by Reuters.

Amazon told Reuters last month it was extending the moratorium it placed on police on the use of its facial recognition technology. Civil liberties groups have warned that inaccurate correspondence could lead to unfair arrests.

“In order for investors to fulfill their responsibility to respect human rights, we call on companies to proactively assess, disclose, mitigate and correct human rights risks associated with their facial recognition products and services,” said Rosa van den Beemt, investment manager. Analyst at BMO Global Asset Management, one of the investors who joined the initiative.

The facial recognition technology market is expected to reach around $ 10 billion in 2020, Candriam said in a report released in March, citing a 2018 survey from Allied Market Research.

Among those who signed on to the investor initiative were UK firm Aviva Investors (AV.L), Royal London Asset Management, Canadian BMO Global Asset Management, Dutch firm NN Investment Partners and Norwegian firm KLP.

“The growing deployment and use of facial recognition technologies has human rights implications that are not fully taken into account by companies,” said Louise Piffaut, senior ESG analyst at Aviva Investors.

Candriam said there is currently no global framework governing the collection and use of biometric data, but the European Union has proposed its very first legal framework and China has released a draft standard.

The European Union’s privacy watchdog said in April that the technology should be banned in Europe because of its “deep and undemocratic intrusion” into people’s privacy.

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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