Microsoft to divest AnyVision stake, end face recognition investing

Technology

FILE PHOTO: The Microsoft logo is pictured ahead of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain February 24, 2019. REUTERS/Sergio Perez/File Photo

(Reuters) – Microsoft Corp said on Friday it was divesting its stake in Israeli facial recognition startup AnyVision and that it was updating its policies so it no longer would make minority investments in companies that sell the controversial technology.

The Redmond, Wash.-based software and cloud giant also said a probe found that AnyVision is not enabling a mass surveillance program in the West Bank as reported by some media outlets.

Still, Microsoft said it believed the policy change was necessary.

“For Microsoft, the audit process reinforced the challenges of being a minority investor in a company that sells sensitive technology, since such investments do not generally allow for the level of oversight or control that Microsoft exercises over the use of its own technology,” it said in a statement on the website of its M12 venture fund.

AnyVision, based outside Tel Aviv, has come under scrutiny following reports by Haaretz’s TheMarker business newspaper and NBC News that its technology is used to surveil Palestinians who live in the occupied West Bank.

Microsoft had hired former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate the claims.

Reporting by Jeffrey Dastin in San Francisco and Munsif Vengattil in Bengaluru; Editing by Maju Samuel and David Gregorio

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