Investors call for ethical approach to facial recognition technology

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

A group of 50 investors who manage more than $ 4.5 trillion in assets call for companies involved in the development and use of facial recognition technology, such as Amazon (AMZN.O) and Facebook (FB.O)to do so in an ethical way.

The investor group, led by asset manager Candriam, a European division of US financial services company New York Life, said in a statement that the technology could violate someone’s privacy because the individuals identified do not agree that there is often no regulatory oversight.

The initiative shows how fund managers are increasing take up political issues once considered a fringe issue for shareholders as retail investors pour billions of dollars into funds that focus 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 disagreements.

The investor group said it will begin a two-year process of working with companies that develop or use the technology. 34 companies are leaders in facial recognition, including Amazon, Facebook and the Asian technology company Alibaba (9988.HK) and Huawei (HWT.UL).

An Amazon spokesman declined to comment. The other companies did not immediately respond when they were contacted by Reuters.

Amazon told Reuters last month it did to extend a moratorium It imposed police on the use of its facial recognition technology. Civil rights groups have warned that inaccurate attribution could lead to unjust arrests.

“To enable investors to meet our own responsibility to respect human rights, we urge companies to proactively assess, disclose, mitigate and remediate human rights risks associated with their facial recognition products and services,” said Rosa van den Beemt, Responsible Investment Analyst at BMO Global Asset Management, one of the investors who joined the initiative.

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

UK Aviva Investors were among those who joined the investor initiative (AV.L), Royal London Asset Management, Canada’s BMO Global Asset Management, NN Investment Partners based in the Netherlands and Norway’s KLP.

“The increasing adoption and adoption of facial recognition technology has human rights implications that are not fully respected by companies,” said Louise Piffaut, senior ESG analyst at Aviva Investors.

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

The European Union’s data protection commissioner said in April the technology should banned in Europe because of its “deep and undemocratic intrusion” into people’s private lives.

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