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Paris Call: growing consensus on cyberspace

Today, Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, France’s Minister of State attached to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, announced remarkable progress toward securing cyberspace. The community of Paris Call signatories is growing and taking new initiative to thwart attacks that threaten our democracies, economies and public services. The number of signatories of the Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace, announced a year ago, has nearly tripled to more than 1,000 and now includes 74 nations; more than 350 international, civil society and public sector organizations; and more than 600 private sector entities. These commitments to the Paris Call from around the world demonstrate a widespread, global, multi-stakeholder consensus about acceptable behavior in cyberspace.

The principles in the Paris Call address real-world challenges we’re facing today, like preventing foreign interference in elections, protecting availability of the internet, and curbing attacks on critical infrastructure. Importantly, supporters are committed to working together in a multi-stakeholder model, with governments, industry, academia and civil society collaborating to protect our cyberspace from nation-state threats, including attacks on our democratic processes.

Nations now supporting the Paris Call reflect the broadening mandate for international action to address cyberthreats with 10 Latin American nations, 13 Asian and Pacific signatories and eight African nations joining with 42 European states and Canada. In total, Paris Call signatories represent almost 40 percent of United Nations member states.

Enterprises in more than 60 countries and civil society groups in more than 65 countries have now joined, with respected retailers like Migros of Switzerland and Rakuten of Japan; financial services and insurance companies like CIMB Group in Malaysia and AXA Group in France; the global logistics leader Deutsche Post DHL Group; media and telecommunications providers like Sky and Telefonica; as well as civil society organizations like the German Marshall Fund of the United States and the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life. More than 60 enterprises and civil society groups in India have joined, although the Indian Government has not yet made its commitment.

One interesting trend, following a series of ransomware attacks targeting municipalities in the U.S., is that local and state governments in the U.S. have signed onto the Paris Call. New joiners include the cities of San Jose and Louisville and the states of Colorado, Virginia and Washington, bringing the number of U.S. signatories to more than 130. We believe this strengthens the case for the U.S. government to sign onto the Paris Call. The Paris Call builds on international norms that the U.S. has endorsed previously, with the addition of one new commitment that the U.S. should find easy to support: the protection of elections.

The tech sector has the primary responsibility to protect the internet and the people who rely upon it, but ultimately security and stability in cyberspace will require that governments, companies and civil society come together to find joint solutions to the challenges we are facing. With nation-state cyberattacks on the rise, the growing consensus emerging from all these groups makes it clear that cyberspace should not be exploited to inflict harm on the citizens of this world.

The promise of the Paris Call is the commitment of signatories to collaborate and build solutions across the full range of cyber challenges. In recent months, we have participated in roundtable discussions in cities around the world on how we engage in even more concrete follow-up action not just to abide by the principles in the Paris Call but to proactively advance them around the world. We at Microsoft strongly support the concept of a “Paris Call Community,” also announced today, centered around the nine principles of the Call. For example, Microsoft and the Alliance for Securing Democracy have created the “Paris Call Community on Countering Election Interference” – a multi-stakeholder project focused on implementing principle no. 3, working to identify best practices and build capacity to defend against foreign interference in democratic processes. We are also partnering with the Cybersecurity Tech Accord, the Internet Society, Global Cyber Alliance and CyberGreen to strengthen solutions that improve cyber hygiene, or basic security practices, among signatories in accordance with principle no. 7. We are committed to expanding these projects and encouraging contributions of talent and energy from everyone who wants to help realize the potential of the Paris Call Community.

If you are a government, a business in any industry, or a non-governmental organization, adding your voice to the Paris Call is a powerful way to advocate for principles and engage to help build solutions that will make your organization and ultimately the world a safer place. Head to this website to learn more and add your name and your efforts to the growing community of Paris Call participants.

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Why Microsoft applauds the European Banking Authority’s revised guidelines on outsourcing arrangements

The financial services community has unprecedented opportunity ahead. With new technologies like cloud, AI and blockchain, firms are creating new customer experiences, managing risk more effectively, combating financial crime, and meeting critical operational objectives. Banks, insurers and other services providers are choosing digital innovation to address these opportunities at a time when competition is increasing from every angle – from traditional and non-traditional players alike.

At the same time, our experience is that lack of clarity in regulation can hinder adoption of these exciting technologies, as regulatory compliance remains fundamental to financial institutions using technology they trust.  Indeed, the common question I get from customers is: Will regulators let me use your technology, and have you built in the capabilities to help me meet my compliance obligations?

A portrait of Dave Dadoun, assistant general counsel for Microsoft.
Dave Dadoun.

With this in mind, we applaud the European Banking Authority’s (EBA) revised Guidelines on outsourcing arrangements which, in part, address the use of cloud computing. For several years now we have shared perspectives with regulators on how regulation can be modernized to address cloud computing without diminishing the security, privacy, transparency and compliance safeguards necessary in a native cloud or hybrid-cloud world. In fact, cloud computing can afford financial institutions greater risk assurance – particularly on key things like managing data, securing data, addressing cyber threats and maintaining resilience.

At the core of the revised guidelines are a set of flexible principles addressing cloud in financial services. Indeed, the EBA has been clear these “guidelines are subject to the principle of proportionality,” and should be “applied in a manner that is appropriate, taking into account, in particular, the institution’s or payment institution’s size … and the nature, scope and complexity of its activities.” In addition, the guidelines set out to harmonize approaches across jurisdictions, a big step forward for financial institutions to have predictability and consistency among regulators in Europe. We think the EBA took this smart move to support leading-edge innovation and responsible adoption, and prepare for more advanced technology like machine learning and AI going forward.

Given these guidelines reflect a modernized approach that transcends Europe, we have updated our global Financial Services Amendment for customers to reflect these key changes. We have also created a regulatory mapping document which shows how our cloud services and underlying contractual commitments map to these requirements in an EU Checklist. The EU Checklist is accessible on the Microsoft Service Trust Portal. In essence, Europe offers the benchmark in establishing rules to permit use of cloud for financial services and we are proud to align to such requirements.

Because this is such an important milestone for the financial sector, we wanted to share our point-of-view on a few key aspects of the guidelines, which may help firms accelerate technology transformation with the Microsoft cloud going forward:

  • Auditability: As cloud has become more prevalent, we think it is natural to extend audit rights to cloud vendors in circumstances that warrant it. We also think that audits are not a one-size-fits-all approach but adaptable based on use cases – particularly whether it involves running core banking systems in the cloud. Microsoft has provided innovations to help supervise and audit hyper-scale cloud, including:
  • Data localization: We are pleased there are no data localization requirements in the EBA guidance. Rather, customers must assess the legal, security and other risks where data is stored, as opposed to mandating data be stored strictly in Europe. We help customers manage and assess such risk by providing:
    • Contractual commitments to store data at rest in a specified region (including Europe).
    • Transparency where data is stored.
    • Full commitments to meet key privacy requirements, like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
    • Flow-through of such commitments to our subcontractors.
  • Subcontractors. The guidelines address subcontractors, particularly those that provide “critical or important” functions. Management, governance and oversight of Microsoft’s subcontractors is core to what we do.  Among other things:
    • Microsoft’s subcontractors are subject to a vetting process and must follow the same privacy and governance controls we ourselves implement to protect customer data.
    • We provide transparency about subcontractors who may have access to customer data and provide 180 days notification about any new subcontractors as well.
    • We provide customers termination rights should they conclude a subcontractor presents a material increase in risk to a critical or important function of their operations.
  • Core platforms: We welcome the EBA’s position providing clarity that core platforms may run in the cloud. What matters is governance, documenting protocols, the security and resiliency of such systems, and having appropriate oversight (and audit rights), and commitments to terminate an agreement, if and when that becomes necessary. These are all capabilities Microsoft offers to its customers and we now see movement among leading banks to put core systems into our cloud because of the benefits we provide.
  • Business Continuity and Exit Planning. Institutions must have business continuity plans and test them periodically for use of critical or important functions. Microsoft has supported our customers to meet this requirement, including providing a Modern Cloud Risk Assessment toolkit and, in addition, in the Service Trust Portal documentation on our service resilience architecture, our Enterprise Business Continuity Management team (EBCM), and a quarterly report detailing results from our recent EBCM testing. In addition, we have supported our customers in preparing exit planning documentation, and we work with industry bodies like the European Banking Federation towards further industry guidance for these new EBA requirements.
  • Concentration risk: The EBA addresses the need to assess whether concentration risk may exist due to potential systemic failures in use of cloud services (and other legacy infrastructure). However, this is balanced with understanding what the risks are of a single point of failure, and to balance those risks and trade-offs from existing legacy systems. In short, financial institutions should assess the resiliency and safeguards provided with our hyper-scale cloud services, which can offer a more robust approach than systems in place today. When making those assessments, financial institutions may decide to lean-in more with cloud as they transform their businesses going forward.

The EBA framework is a great step forward to help modernize regulation and take advantage of cloud computing. We look forward to participating in ongoing industry discussion, such as new guidance under consideration by the European Insurance and Occupational Pension Authority concerning use of cloud services, as well as assisting other regions and countries in their journey to creating more modern policy that both supports innovation while protecting the integrity of critical global infrastructure.

For more information on Microsoft in the financial services industry, please go here.

Top photo courtesy of the European Banking Authority.

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Helping refugees and displaced persons by shifting the approach to how we help nonprofits

Teenage girl with arm around another girl
Photo credit: Andrew Oberstadt/IRC

Every year on June 20, World Refugee Day, the world focuses its attention on the growing crisis of human displacement; a mounting global tragedy, as there are more refugees today than any time seen since World War II.

A few months ago, I was humbled by my first visit to the Kakuma Refugee Camp, a United Nations camp that opened in 1992 following the arrival of the 23,000 “Lost Boys of Sudan.” The camp was designed to provide capacity for approximately 70,000 residents and now has nearly 190,000 refugees from more than 20 countries. I was awestruck by the vastness of the camp and inspired by the stories of the refugees and the amazing efforts of humanitarian organizations to create opportunities for them.

International Rescue Committee CEO David Miliband
International Rescue Committee CEO David Miliband. Photo credit: Kellie Ryan/IRC

Seeing the Kakuma camp opened my eyes to the scale and graveness of today’s refugee crisis. It also reaffirmed my conviction that the world needs to do more to respond.  As International Rescue Committee CEO David Miliband writes in his book “Rescue: Refugees and the Political Crisis of Our Time ,” “Refugees and displaced people have lost everything. But the refugee crisis is also about ‘us’ – what we, living in far greater comfort, stand for, and how we see our place in the world. It is a test of our character. Pass the test and rescue not just refugees but ourselves.” The challenge is immense with over 70 million refugees and internally displaced people.  At Microsoft we certainly don’t have all the answers, but we do know that in order to do more, we also must shift our lens from a traditional approach of corporate social responsibility, to an approach of total social impact to better support the crucial work of nonprofits.

Our response starts with the commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) created by the United Nations. These are benchmarks that paint the vision that the global community wants to see and what we aspire to, across the government, nonprofit and private sectors. But the world needs more than the goals; it needs the resources to achieve them, and according to the United Nations Sustainable Development Group there is a $2.5 trillion dollar annual funding gap across the SDGs. Well-resourced organizations around the world – public and private – will need to do more to make up this gap. Beyond the foundational moral imperative of doing more, there is a strong long-term business case. A recent analysis shows that by meeting the SDG goals, we will unleash an estimated $12 trillion of market opportunities and create 380 million new jobs by 2030.

At Microsoft, we are working to better address this opportunity through our core philanthropic initiatives focused on equipping underserved communities around the world with the digital skills they need to effectively participate in the 21st century economy.  We are also working to amplify the impact of our employee engagement and giving.  However, we are going beyond traditional philanthropic models and creating a social business focused on helping nonprofits access deeper levels of innovation to address social challenges – using our technology and expertise to help humanitarian organizations scale the impact of the workers on front lines, manage and allocate aid, and help populations who need it most. All incremental profits generated from this affordable social business model are then reinvested into philanthropy and innovation for the nonprofit sector. This creates a self-reinforcing flywheel that fuels more impact. By integrating philanthropy with affordably designed social business models we create a total social impact plan that has the ability to scale innovation and impact beyond more traditional approaches.

Outlined below are two examples of how we are leveraging this model to invest in solutions to better support refugees, displaced people, and the communities that host them:

Artificial intelligence to support refugees and displaced people: Last year at the UN General Assembly, Microsoft built on its longstanding support to humanitarian organizations with AI for Humanitarian Action, a $40 million, five-year program. Through AI for Humanitarian Action, we are harnessing the power of artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve the lives of over 70 million displaced people in the world, nearly 26 million of whom are refugees.

As a part of this work, today we are announcing AI for Humanitarian Action projects with two nonprofit organizations, Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP) and KIND, to help combat wrongful deportation of asylum seekers in the United States. Both organizations provide legal assistance to asylum seekers and governments’ current processes are challenging while the cases are time sensitive. ASAP works with approximately 3,000 asylum seekers on any given day connecting them with the tools they need to take control of their legal cases and advocate for their families. Using Microsoft speech-to-text artificial intelligence and an Azure-based database, ASAP and KIND are partnering with volunteers and other legal aid organizations to assist families fleeing persecution in their home countries. The AI tool helps their respective staffs efficiently track changing court dates and prioritize cases most in need of emergency legal services.

Digital skills to empower refugees and displaced people: Refugees and displaced people live lives that are disrupted, often forced from the information and basic resources we sometimes take for granted. Yet, they have tremendous energy and are a force for positive change in the world. That’s why we must use the power of technology to route information, skills and knowledge in better ways to displaced people, using technology channels to provide access to education, and help them pursue a new future. Microsoft is working with a number of organizations providing digital skills, including:

  • International Rescue Committee (IRC) to create sustainable programming for refugees and displaced populations around the world, and increasing the efficiency and efficacy of the IRC staff who serve them. This includes “Digital Skills for New Americans in the U.S.,” and “Technology for Livelihoods in Crisis” in Jordan. These programs are designed to be contextually relevant for refugees and the job markets in these countries to find new ways to empower refugees, including women and girls. Through this partnership with Microsoft, IRC aims to create a foundation for career development programming that will be delivered to 45,000 IRC clients over the next five years in the U.S., and to eventually expand trainings for refugee and displaced clients across Europe, the Middle East and Africa. These programs build on deep investments by Microsoft in IRC programs that help IRC provide humanitarian aid and digital skills to crisis-effected communities.
  • Norwegian Refugee Council to deliver education services and solutions to help 400,000 displaced people with digital skills enabling new opportunities.
  • United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to reach over 25,000 refugee young women and men in Kakuma by 2020 with access to accredited, quality and relevant digital learning and market-oriented training opportunities. The partnership will include training and knowledge sharing with UNHCR international teams and local partners, who will help deliver the content. It’s the first stage of a project we intend to scale across multiple countries.
  • UNICEF to ensure that displaced children and young people have access to the education skills they need, are better prepared to reach their potential and are enabled to be the future leaders our world will need. UNICEF and Microsoft, together with the University of Cambridge, are partnering to develop a digital platform, “The Learning Passport,” that will facilitate learning opportunities for displaced young people within and across borders.

As I reflect on my Kakuma visit, it is a vivid memory for me that lives are at stake. I encourage us all to continue working to think how your organization can make an impact. We must push the boundaries of our traditional philanthropic and business models so that our social impact is proportionate to the power and resources we command. We have an obligation and an opportunity to advance a future for everyone. Together, we can do more.

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Next Generation Washington: Brad Smith’s 2019 legislative session recap

Earlier this year, I shared Microsoft’s 2019 Washington state legislative priorities as part of our practice to engage constructively on important regional issues. Since then, a lot has happened, and I thought it was a good time to provide an update on where we landed on the issues we feel are important for the future of the state.

Washington made some great strides this session on issues like higher education funding, affordable housing and rural broadband — but some important initiatives, including the adoption of consumer data privacy protections, did not get completed and will need to be addressed in the next session.

Recession-proofing higher education funding
In March, I joined University of Washington president Ana Mari Cauce and Wayne Martin, vice chair of the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges in a Seattle Times opinion column that laid out why this was the right time to establish a dedicated funding source for public higher education.

Fortunately, lawmakers, led by Rep. Drew Hansen, agreed and made a $1.2 billion commitment to prepare Washington students and workers for Washington jobs over the next six years. These are new and dedicated funds for higher education institutions and state-funded student financial aid programs to supplement, not supplant, other federal, state and local higher education funding.

Why is this important? Because, historically, higher education has sustained significantly larger cuts than K-12 schools, criminal justice, and other general fund spending categories during economic downturns. By establishing a dedicated fund, the bill reduces the potential impact of general fund budget cuts.

Another important element of the legislation is that funds will go where they are needed most, with the costs borne by those who benefit the most from higher education. Over the next two years, more than $160 million will be directly invested into the futures of Washington students to create the Washington College Grant (WCG) program, a need-based financial aid program for students from low- and moderate-income families. The WCG will close the waiting list for the existing State Need Grant, which it replaces, within those two years. Students enrolled in qualifying post-secondary education and training programs qualify for grants based on income, with full tuition and fees provided for those at 55 percent or less of the median family income level (approximately $50,000 or less for a family of four), and smaller grants pro-rated for income levels up to the state median (approximately $90,000 for a family of four).

In addition to this important new resource, critical additional funding will flow to high-demand degree programs, from engineering and math programs at UW, to teacher education at Central Washington University, to nursing education at our state’s community and technical colleges.

What’s next: Microsoft remains committed to doing our part. The highest surcharges will be paid by advanced computing businesses with worldwide gross revenues in excess of $100 million such as Amazon and Microsoft. We consider it an investment in the future of our state.

Expanding affordable housing options
An equally important investment, announced about the time the Legislature was getting underway, is Microsoft’s $500 million commitment to expanding affordable housing options in the Puget Sound region.

When we made that announcement, we shared our belief that substantial public, private and non-profit resources will be needed to make our communities more welcoming to a diverse range of local residents.  Investments must be made not only to combat chronic homelessness, but also to create affordable middle-income housing opportunities for teachers, emergency responders, nurses and many others who contribute to the health and social fabric of the entire community.

With that in mind, we advocated for the state to almost double its direct public investment in affordable housing in the 2019-21 capital budget. Ultimately, lawmakers settled on an appropriation of $175 million to the Housing Trust Fund, a substantial increase over the $110 million included in recent budget cycles, more proportionate to the scale of the problem.  We applaud everyone in Olympia who worked to make this outstanding commitment to affordable housing.

We also were encouraged by passage of legislation to modernize Washington statutes on condominium liability, which Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law on April 30. The reforms in that legislation will eliminate barriers and stimulate new private development of affordable housing options for the middle-income market.

What’s next: We will continue to work in partnership with policymakers, business organizations, nonprofits and community groups on this pressing issue. It’s up to all of us to promote inclusive and vibrant communities in our region through affordable housing. We look forward to continued dialogue and collective action.

Protection of data and personal privacy
At Microsoft, we believe privacy is a fundamental human right. Technology plays an increasingly important role in our lives. But while technology is a tool that creates exciting new opportunities, people need to have assurance their data is protected and they can control it. At a time when other states and even other countries are strengthening their laws, we believe Washingtonians deserve world-class protections.

That’s why we strongly supported legislation introduced by Sen. Reuven Carlyle to protect the data and privacy of Washington consumers. Carlyle’s bill would have given Washingtonians a new level of control over their personal data while also allowing innovation to continue.

The movement to strengthen consumer privacy was advanced when this bill passed the Senate on a strong, bipartisan vote of 46-1; the privacy updates it would have ushered in were an important and meaningful step in the right direction. Unfortunately, as is sometimes the case in state and federal legislative bodies, political considerations ultimately got in the way of action and the bill did not pass the Legislature.

What’s next: Despite the Legislature’s failure to successfully address the issue, privacy concerns aren’t going away. Data privacy remains critically important for the people of Washington. We are committed to working with legislative leaders and other stakeholders to address the barriers to passage that emerged this session so that we can improve prospects for passage next year.

Creating additional opportunities in rural areas
As technology’s pervasive presence in our work and family lives increases the need for a regulatory framework to protect personal privacy, it also makes it more critical that all members of our society have access to the new opportunities created through innovation.

Unfortunately, in Washington and across the country, too many people living in rural areas lack access to the broadband communication infrastructure necessary to fully participate in our digital economy.

We believe bringing broadband to rural areas is as important today as the electrification of rural America was decades ago, which is why we launched the Microsoft AirBand Initiative to deliver high-speed internet access to more than 3 million additional rural Americans by July 4, 2022.

I’m pleased to see the state is continuing its commitment to expanding economic opportunities in every corner of our state with a $21.5 million appropriation to provide loans and grants for expanding broadband access in rural areas, as well as operating funds for a new State Broadband Office to be located within the Department of Commerce.

What’s next: Microsoft will continue to pursue strategic investments and support public policies to bring broadband access to all Washingtonians.

High-speed rail connections
Washington, Oregon and British Columbia have an opportunity to stake out a stronger position as leaders in the global economy through the continued development of the Cascadia Innovation Corridor.  Through coordination and collaboration we can create greater opportunities and establish ourselves as a global center of innovation and trade. Together, Seattle, Vancouver and Portland can expect to accomplish so much more than would ever be possible individually. By shrinking travel times between major Pacific Northwest anchor cities, high-speed rail will open the door for stronger relationships and new employment and entrepreneurship opportunities within and across communities.

We know establishing a massive public infrastructure project is no small feat and requires ironing out all manner of multi-jurisdictional and multi-national details. But I’m encouraged to see that the initial feasibility studies of high-speed rail in the Cascadia corridor have come back positive.

Given the long development times involved, it’s important to begin initial work as soon as possible to secure financing and governance structures needed to make this incredible service a reality.

The transportation budget adopted by the Legislature will provide another $242,000 in state funding to continue this critical development work. However, it makes the appropriation contingent on $671,000 first being raised from private and local sources. Although we appreciate their continued support of the planning and development process, we also believe that Washington state lawmakers should have made a more significant, non-conditional commitment to support this game-changing service. The fact is, Washington is the largest economy among the three regions, and we stand to gain substantially from the development of the Cascadia corridor. Our state should be stepping up to take a lead role.

What’s next: Microsoft will continue to work to secure the funding needed for state engagement and will work with private and public sector partners to host a conference focused on high-speed rail.

The conversation continues
Over this last legislative session, Microsoft advocated in Olympia for expanded computer science education options in K-12 schools, for strengthening companies’ legal responsibilities in the event of a data breach, and for furthering Washington’s commitment to carbon-free electricity generation in the years ahead.

We believe that as a major employer in the state, it’s our job to keep the lines of communication open, keep engaging on the important issues, and most of all, keep creating economic opportunities that improve the quality of life for Washington state residents.

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First grads of Global Innovation Exchange tackle local and worldwide challenges

High mortality rates in chickens; loss of biodiversity; and the feeling of loneliness. These and other challenges are being addressed by the first graduates of the Global Innovation Exchange, or GIX.

GIX is a partnership between the University of Washington and Tsinghua University in Beijingwith foundational support from Microsoft. This project- and team-based program offers a 15-month Master of Science in Technology Innovation and a 21-month Dual Degree.

Most of the projects are sponsored by industry partners, including Microsoft, Boeing, T-Mobile, AT&T and Baidu. Leaders from the industry partner companies pitch loosely defined projects to GIX students, and then mentor the teams as the projects develop.

In this way, students tackle both local and global challenges, drawing on the expertise and technology of their project partners.  

The first class, which included students from Seattle, Estonia, India and Paraguay, graduated in December 2019. Here’s a taste of what the students came up with.


YouTube Video

Eggare a critical source of food around the world.  

But many poultry farmers must contend with a significant loss of flock, especially in egg-laying hens, because of disease, animal predators, heat and theft.

To help solve this problemGIX students built a machinelearning programCluckAIthat can identify when chickens are in distress. Listening devices placed around the flock monitor sounds, while algorithms analyze those sounds and alert the farmer, who can take action. 

One team member, Padraic Casserly, likened it to a baby monitor for poultry farmers.   

This project was developed in collaboration with Microsoft FarmBeatswhich is helping farmers increase productivity and lower costs through employing a more data-driven approach to farming 

As people encroach on the habitats of wildlife, there is a risk of losing species and reducing biodiversity. According to a recent study from the National Academy of Sciences of the United Statesa sixth mass extinction is already underway. But what if we could train cameras to help protect wildlife?

A GIX student team created a motion-sensor camera called Diversita that uses machine-learning to identify up to 5,000 species of wildlife. Data captured by the camera is analyzed in real time. 

This can save hours of work poring over photographs to spot animalsIt can also be used to detect invasive species and study shrinking icebergs and other environmental changes. 

This technology was built on research already carried out through Microsoft’s AI for Earth program, which uses artificial intelligence to address areas vital for building a sustainable future. 


YouTube Video

Parents sometimes need to leave their children in the care of relatives while pursuing educational or employment opportunities abroad.  

This was the case for one of the GIX students studying in Seattle, who had a 10-month-old son in China. The separation made him think about how he could contribute meaningfully to his son’s development from afar 

It inspired SparkEdan app that allows parents to customize and remotely guide their children’s learning 

This app is designed for children ages 4 to 8and was built around picture book, The Stray Dog.  

As the child reads the story on the app, the parent can build in a question for them to answer. 

For example, when the stray dog appears, the child is presented with a choice: should it shoo the dog away, or feed it, because it looks hungry

The parent decides which answer is the most appropriate based on the beliefs and values they want their child to learn. In this way, the app helps parents teach their children how to react in everyday situations 

Many people move to a new city to take a up a new job or to study, without knowing a soul. Seattle is one of the fastestgrowing cities in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The number of newcomers has increased by 20% in the last eight years. 

Knowing this, a team of GIX students designed and developed PlayerX – an app that helps connect people in offline interactions.

The app strategically connects people that frequent the same places and engage in similar activities, according to its description. The more two users have in common, the more interaction is available through the app. Users can then decide whether to add people as friend on the app, opening the possibility of meeting in person.  

The goal is to help people make new, lasting friendships, and the app is aimed not just at newcomers but at locals too. 


YouTube Video

The process of getting legal copyright on content can be complex. One group of students used blockchain technology to remove the traditional barriers to getting copyright protection for a piece of work  

The platformUbiRight,  allows creators of written or visual content to instantly receive copyright protection when they post the content online. When users create a new piece of content and post it to the platform, UbiRight provides a tamper-proof timestamp to prove the copy is original  

With a focus on design thinking, entrepreneurship and technology development, the GIX program is appreciated by the students as the perfect grounding for careers as innovators. 

Some of the students hope to launch start-ups and bring their projects into the real world. 

Others have already received job offers from companies including Alibaba, BaiduElectronic Arts and AMINO Capital, companies that recognize the key skills the students have learned in the program.

GIX is designed to train students to think globally and locally in an era of rapid change and increasingly short business and technology cycles. At the same time, they are bringing forth a raft of projects that show how technology can be used for good.  

Lead photo credit: Scott Eklund/Red Box Pictures 

To learn about what Microsoft is doing follow @MSFTIssues on Twitter. 

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Microsoft and Clooney Foundation for Justice announce Trial Watch program and app

Screenshot of TrialWatch app
The TrialWatch app.

In 1948, as the world recovered from the atrocities of the Second World War, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Eleanor Roosevelt, who led much of the work to craft the declaration, called it a “Magna Carta for all mankind.” The  world’s governments recognized in the declaration the fundamental right to a fair trial, including a “public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal.”

Sadly, more than seven decades later, there are too many days when this right remains elusive for people whose freedom and lives are at stake. In some parts of the world, trials function as instruments of oppression to silence government critics, jail journalists or target minority populations. This injustice is a global cause that Amal and George Clooney, co-founders of the Clooney Foundation for Justice (CFJ), have set out to confront.

Today in New York City, Microsoft announced a partnership with CFJ to help advance human rights through TrialWatch, a program that trains and equips trial monitors to document and determine whether trials are conducted in a fair way. CFJ’s strategy, in partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Columbia Law School and the American Bar Association, is to expose injustices, rally global support, and create pressure on nations to change. The foundation’s program will make the world a witness in courtrooms across the globe.

From the moment I first sat down with the Clooneys, I was impressed by their vision and struck by the similarity between their strategy and the successful work of election monitors in the 1980s. Just as election monitoring has boosted the fairness of elections around the world, CFJ’s TrialWatch project can promote fairer trials. But it’s difficult to pay equal attention to the critical daily proceedings that unfold in courtrooms in every corner of the globe. That’s why cutting-edge technology in the hands of human rights experts and volunteers can be a game changer by helping CFJ’s efforts scale.

As our developers have rolled up their sleeves to work arm-in-arm with CFJ’s team, they’ve incorporated artificial intelligence that will make human monitors and judicial experts more effective. AI-powered text to speech and language-translation capabilities will speed the input of data and enable experts around the world to help assess a trial’s fairness even if they don’t speak a local language. With this information, and backed by data science capabilities, CFJ can build quantitative and qualitative reports that will be reviewed and evaluated by its legal experts.

Our partnership with CFJ is a new cornerstone of the AI for Humanitarian Action program we launched last September at the United Nations General Assembly meetings. It builds on our ongoing partnership with the United Nations Human Rights Office, which is using new technology to better predict, analyze and respond to critical human rights situations around the world.

Already, the new TrialWatch technology has been deployed on a pilot basis in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Latin America with work underway to rapidly expand further. It’s a showcase of how technology can make human beings more powerful, productive and effective.

By better protecting human rights in courtrooms, digital technology and CFJ’s volunteers and experts can help humanity curb oppression that’s as old as civilization itself. It’s a partnership the world needs to create a brighter future.

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Next Generation Washington: Our priorities for 2019 session of Washington State Legislature

The Washington State Legislature recently began its 2019 session. In keeping with Microsoft tradition, I’d like to share with you our legislative priorities. What follows are a few of the issues at the top of our agenda this year.

Ensuring a healthy community: the need for affordable housing in the Puget Sound region
Growth in the Puget Sound region has created new challenges and, chief among them, is a now-critical need to increase the supply of affordable housing. To help address the affordable housing crisis in our community, Microsoft recently announced a commitment of $500 million in the Puget Sound region.  Our investments will take the form of funds to support the creation of low- and middle-income housing, as well as grants to homelessness-related initiatives.

This session, we also ask lawmakers to join us by renewing and expanding the state’s commitment to this important issue. We are urging legislators to continue making direct public investments in affordable housing by appropriating $200 million in the 2019-21 capital budget to the Housing Trust Fund to expand increase development of housing for low-income individuals and families. Although this figure represents a significant increase from the $110 million included in recent budget cycles, we believe it is appropriate given the scale of the problem at hand.

Beyond direct public investment, we are requesting that lawmakers enact policies that encourage private development of affordable housing. Condominium liability reforms, for example, would eliminate barriers and stimulate new development of affordable housing units for the middle-income market. Allowing cities to extend the multifamily tax exemption beyond its existing 12-year limit is another idea we are advocating. Finally, we encourage lawmakers to provide incentives for local communities to reduce zoning and permitting hurdles to allow increased production of other forms of affordable housing in their communities, especially near transit hubs.

The bottom line: We are committed to efforts that increase the availability of affordable housing and provide opportunities for a diverse range of citizens to live in the communities in which they work.

Closing the rural broadband gap
In Washington, about one in 10 residents in rural communities lack broadband communications access. These figures reflect a nationwide problem: Nearly 20 million Americans in rural areas lack access to a service that has become as fundamental as electricity.

Here and elsewhere, this broadband gap constrains the ability of many rural residents to fully participate in the digital economy and the opportunities it provides. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to stay that way.

Microsoft is investing heavily in broadband development through our Airband Initiative, which focuses on bringing broadband coverage to rural Americans through commercial partnerships and investment in digital skills training for people in the newly connected communities. Proceeds from Airband connectivity projects are reinvested into the program to expand broadband to more rural areas. Rural Washington is a key focus area for Airband, and we recently announced important partnerships with providers like Native Networks and Declaration Networks that will bring broadband to more rural Washingtonians.

As for the public side of this public-private partnership, we encourage the Legislature to build on the $10 million it appropriated last year to support broadband development and deployment in rural areas by creating a State Broadband Office and investing $25 million in a competitive grant program to support additional broadband deployment in underserved areas.

The bottom line: We believe the public and private sectors, working together, can eliminate the rural broadband gap in our state within the next four years.

Protection of data and personal privacy
Today, we run our businesses, connect with friends and family, and live our lives in a digital world. Now, more than ever before, there is an urgent need to modernize privacy laws. We know it, and the public knows it.

At a time when the public’s growing concern with maintaining individual privacy threatens to undermine trust in technology and stifle the promise and progress it can bring, lawmakers have a duty to act decisively.

Microsoft has been advocating for new federal privacy laws since 2005, but progress at the federal level remains stalled. But privacy legislation is starting to sweep across the country, with California leading the nation last year with a major new privacy law that will protect that state’s consumers who use technology and other services. That state’s approach builds on important developments in other countries, including across Europe. It’s important for Washington state to be a leader in this space as well, and this legislative session provides an opportunity for it to do so.

Sen. Reuven Carlyle (D-Seattle) has introduced important legislation that represents the right approach to modernizing state law. And Rep. Shelley Kloba (D-Kirkland) has introduced the companion bill in the House. Sen. Carlyle’s bill builds on the best aspects of approaches elsewhere, and we endorse it. As the legislation moves forward, it will be important for stakeholders to come together to work through important details, including provisions that exempt small businesses that impact fewer consumers.

The bottom line: At Microsoft, we believe privacy is a fundamental human right, and we support efforts by lawmakers in Olympia to protect the data and privacy of Washington consumers in a manner that allows innovation to continue and is also sensitive to the needs of the state’s small businesses.

A principled approach to facial recognition technology
While the proliferation of facial recognition has created many new and positive benefits around the world, we believe that it is time for a clear-eyed look at the risks and potential for abuse of this growing technology. Three simple steps to put appropriate limits on use will address the potential for bias or discrimination in facial recognition systems, intrusions into privacy and the potential for use of mass surveillance to encroach on democratic freedoms.

We believe it’s especially important to empower customers and consumers alike by ensuring that companies that participate in the facial recognition market enable academics and third parties to test their services. There is no more reason for a company in the facial recognition market to object to third-party testing than there is reason for an automobile company to object to testing the airbags in a new car. The public deserves the transparency needed to evaluate whether these services are error-prone and biased in their results.

We look forward to working with state lawmakers on these issues.

The bottom line: By putting guardrails around the use of this maturing technology, Washington lawmakers have an opportunity to blaze a trail that can serve as a model for effective privacy legislation nationwide.

Investment in high-speed rail
Another initiative that will create unprecedented economic opportunities for Washington residents for generations to come is the development of a high-speed rail line linking Vancouver, Seattle and Portland.

Leaders in these communities are working collaboratively to formalize the Cascadia Innovation Corridor, a strategy to drive additional job growth and better position our area as a global center of innovation and commerce.

High-speed rail could reduce the travel time between Seattle and Vancouver to a little over an hour. Early feasibility studies have confirmed this service could be operated cost-effectively. It’s now time to move from the planning stage to the implementation phase. Microsoft is supporting the governor’s $3 million budget proviso to establish a formal partnership between Washington, Oregon and British Columbia to chart a path forward to develop and operate high-speed rail service within Cascadia corridor.

The bottom line: The Cascadia Innovation Corridor will be a game-changer. We must act now to develop the legal and financial structures to move forward.

New opportunities for Washington citizens
We support efforts to increase economic opportunities and enhance quality of life for the people of Washington. Beyond these priorities, Microsoft will continue to support other public policies and investments that create new opportunities for Washington citizens, including expanding computer science education, career-connected learning opportunities and programs that boost postsecondary credential attainment.

We’re proud that our company and more than 50,000 of our employees call Washington home, and we are honored to have this opportunity to share our ideas about how to make it an even greater place to live and work.

We look forward to working with lawmakers and other stakeholders, and we welcome your thoughts on our agenda for 2019.

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People around the world report increased civility online, new Microsoft research shows

People around the world and in the U.S., Germany, France and Belgium, in particular, are experiencing increased levels of online civility, data from a new Microsoft research study show. The findings are being released in conjunction with international Safer Internet Day, Feb. 5.

Microsoft’s Digital Civility Index (DCI) fell two points in the latest year to 66 percent, although the level is still 1 point higher than the inaugural reading taken two years ago. Meanwhile, the DCI as measured by online risks experienced by family and friends of respondents fell 5 points to 63 percent. The findings are from “Civility, Safety and Interactions Online – 2018,” which measured the perception of teens and adults in 22 countries about their exposure to a number[1] of online risks across four categories: reputational, behavioral, sexual and personal/intrusive. The index works like a golf score: the lower the value (on a scale from zero to 100), the lower the respondents’ risk exposure and the higher the perceived level of online civility among people in that country.

digital civility cover

Indeed, the U.S., Germany, France and Belgium all registered noticeably lower DCI readings in the latest survey, and thus higher levels of perceived online civility among people in those countries. The U.S. DCI showed the biggest improvement, down 10 points to 51 and an overall ranking of No. 2 behind the U.K. Germany’s DCI stands at 57, down 8. France’s DCI fell 6 points and Belgium’s reading came in at 56, down 5 points from the prior year. All four countries also showed improvement in DCI from the first readings taken in 2016.

Unwanted contact is still a prominent risk, but has subsided

Unwanted contact has by far been the standout risk across all three years of research and across  geographies and demographics. In the latest report, four in 10 respondents (40 percent) said they experienced unwanted contact, still the highest of all 21 risks, but 4 points lower than the level of unwanted contact recorded a year ago. This slight decline was the primary driver for overall improvement in the DCI. Exposure to other online risks were largely unchanged from the prior year.

Because the global DCI has seen limited movement year over year, in this latest study, we wanted to dive deeper into some of the actual risk types, as well as the consequences and the follow-on pain and discomfort. It should come as no surprise that the pain and suffering from online risks is real, as these latest data confirm. Indeed, following online risk exposure, people became less trusting of others both online and off. They said their lives became more stressful; they lost sleep and they were less likely to participate in social media, blogs and online forums. Each of these – the top five consequences from the latest study – posted 3- or 4-point increases over the previous year.

On the positive side, a standout piece of good news from the study came from the teen data. Teens now more than ever are looking to their parents and other trusted adults for help with online risks. Forty-two percent of teens surveyed said they asked a parent for help with an online issue, up 32 percent from the prior year. Just under 3 in 10 (28 percent) said they asked another adult for help, such as a teacher, coach or counselor. The severity of online risks is certainly on the rise – consider “sextortion,” grooming, and bullying and “piling on;” but the fact that more teens are turning to adults for wisdom and guidance is a welcome development.

Commit to the Digital Civility Challenge

Also on this international Safer Internet Day, we’re reminding people about our Digital Civility Challenge: four practical principles for safer and healthier online interactions. Everyone can commit to the challenge actions this Safer Internet Day and pledge to adopt positive online habits and practices throughout the year.

Here are the Digital Civility Challenge actions:

  1. Live the Golden Rule by acting with empathy, compassion and kindness in every interaction, and treat everyone you connect with online with dignity and respect.
  2. Respect differences, honor diverse perspectives and when disagreements surface, engage thoughtfully, and avoid name-calling and personal attacks.
  3. Pause before replying to things you disagree with, and don’t post or send anything that could hurt someone else, damage a reputation or threaten someone’s safety.
  4. Stand up for yourself and others by supporting those who are targets of online abuse or cruelty, reporting threatening activity and preserving evidence of inappropriate or unsafe behavior.

More resources to promote digital civility

To help digital civility gain a firmer foothold in 2019, we’re offering some new resources. We conduct our research in more than 20 countries, and there may be opportunities for others to take part. If you are a leader or part of a nongovernmental organization and would like to launch our research in your country, we are making our research questionnaire available free of charge. In addition, you may have heard about our inaugural Council for Digital Good. In 2017, we selected 15 teens from 12 U.S. states to become champions for digital civility as part of an 18-month pilot program. The impact and positivity that came from those efforts, we feel, can and should be replicated. So, we’ve compiled a short guidebook about the time we spent with our teens and the program that we devised. We are making it available to others interested in creating youth-focused programs and initiatives. To receive either or both of these resources, please contact Microsoft Online Safety and Digital Civility at

We again share some best practices for all stakeholders, and we highlight the written manifesto for life online created by our inaugural Council for Digital Good. Finally, we thank our partners and collaborators that have taken up the digital civility cause by starting their own projects and programs rooted in this universal message of treating each other with respect and dignity. This new version of Voices for Digital Civility highlights the numerous individuals and organizations dedicated to advancing these common-sense ideas.

We hope you’ll get involved this Safer Internet Day and become an ambassador for digital civility today and throughout the year. Our website and resources page offer advice and guidance for learning about and addressing almost any online safety issue. For more regular news and information, you can connect with us on Facebook and Twitter. Remember to take the Digital Civility Challenge, and here’s to promoting safe, respectful and inclusive online interactions in 2019 and beyond!

[1] Reputational – “Doxing” and damage to personal or professional reputations

Behavioral – Being treated meanly; experiencing trolling, online harassment or bullying; encountering hate speech and microaggressions

Sexual – Sending or receiving unwanted sexting messages and making sexual solicitations; receiving unwanted sexual attention* and being a victim of sextortion or non-consensual pornography (aka “revenge porn”), and

Personal / Intrusive – Being the target of unwanted contact, experiencing discrimination, swatting, misogyny, exposure to extremist content/recruiting, or falling victim to hoaxes, scams or fraud

* Indicates a new risk in this latest study

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Teaming up to help journalism thrive in the digital age

Three women receiving ICFJ training
ICFJ training in the field.

As part of our mission to empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more, Microsoft recognizes not just the fundamental need for a free press, but also the fundamental need for the free press to adapt to how people seek information.

Technology has empowered citizens to find, create and share information in unprecedented ways. How can we help journalists around the world tell stories, from sports updates to watchdog investigations, in ways that promote transparency, understanding and engagement?

Today, we’re proud to announce the Microsoft Modern Journalism grant program in collaboration with the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ). Based in Washington, D.C., ICFJ has a track record of fostering news innovation, building investigative networks, running exchange programs and promoting diverse voices. Its global mission — to build the expertise and digital skills that journalists need to deliver trustworthy news essential for vibrant societies — has so far created a community 100,000-journalists strong in 180 countries.

Sharon Moshavi, ICJF’s senior vice president of new initiatives, shares their view and vision about our new partnership this way:

“We’re thrilled to partner with the Microsoft Modern Journalism Initiative to support reporting projects focused on data analysis and immersive storytelling. Through these projects, we aim to highlight innovative ways that journalists can enhance news coverage and connect more deeply with audiences.”

The grant program will operate in two phases: The first will award funding and hands-on data journalism training to two alumni of ICFJ programs. Data journalism grounds stories in fact, makes the information transparent to its audiences, and distills the essential pertinent narrative from what could otherwise be an overwhelming swamp of information. By honing the journalist’s digital skills, we’re addressing what ICFJ has defined as a “perilous” gap in newsrooms.

The second phase will award grants for funding and training journalists need to pioneer storytelling using immersive technologies like livestreaming and mixed reality. While data invites fact-based exploration on a large scale, immersive storytelling can be remarkably intimate. It is in these shared experiences where knowledge may become understanding, observation may engender empathy, and learning may translate into action.

We look forward to announcing our winners in March. In the meantime, we encourage you to see, support and join in the kind of work that ICFJ does, be it a sobering virtual tour of the largest slum in Karachi, Pakistan, the fifth most populous city in the world, or a heartening partnership of a global conglomerate and environmental and social nonprofits to safeguard water quality in Nairobi. These stories the world over remind us of the challenges that face all of us, and how much we depend on sharing stories in ways that touch us, educate us and, most importantly, inspire us to act for the best.

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Brad Smith: It’s time for governments to regulate facial recognition technology

In July, we shared our views about the need for government regulation and responsible industry measures to address advancing facial recognition technology. As we discussed, this technology brings important and even exciting societal benefits but also the potential for abuse. We noted the need for broader study and discussion of these issues. In the ensuing months, we’ve been pursuing these issues further, talking with technologists, companies, civil society groups, academics and public officials around the world. We’ve learned more and tested new ideas. Based on this work, we believe it’s important to move beyond study and discussion. The time for action has arrived.

We believe it’s important for governments in 2019 to start adopting laws to regulate this technology. The facial recognition genie, so to speak, is just emerging from the bottle. Unless we act, we risk waking up five years from now to find that facial recognition services have spread in ways that exacerbate societal issues. By that time, these challenges will be much more difficult to bottle back up.

In particular, we don’t believe that the world will be best served by a commercial race to the bottom, with tech companies forced to choose between social responsibility and market success. We believe that the only way to protect against this race to the bottom is to build a floor of responsibility that supports healthy market competition. And a solid floor requires that we ensure that this technology, and the organizations that develop and use it, are governed by the rule of law.

While we don’t have answers for every potential question, we believe there are sufficient answers for good, initial legislation in this area that will enable the technology to continue to advance while protecting the public interest. It’s critical that governments keep pace with this technology, and this incremental approach will enable faster and better learning across the public sector. We’ve summarized our ideas below, and we will prioritize this topic in our public policy discussions in selected states and countries.

We also believe that while it’s better to address these issues broadly, we should not wait for governments to act. We and other tech companies need to start creating safeguards to address facial recognition technology. We believe this technology can serve our customers in important and broad ways, and increasingly we’re not just encouraged, but inspired by many of the facial recognition applications our customers are deploying. But more than with many other technologies, this technology needs to be developed and used carefully. After substantial discussion and review, we have decided to adopt six principles to manage these issues at Microsoft. We are sharing these principles now, with a commitment and plans to implement them by the end of the first quarter in 2019.

We will also release new materials and training resources to help our customers use this technology in a responsible way. Especially at this stage of its development and more so than for many other products, facial recognition technology requires that tech companies and customers work together to deploy these services successfully. We are committed to working closely with customers in the public and private sectors alike.

Governments and the tech sector both play a vital role in ensuring that facial recognition technology creates broad societal benefits while curbing the risk of abuse. While many of the issues are becoming increasingly clear, the technology is young. We need to tackle the initial questions now and learn as we go, developing more knowledge and expertise as the technology evolves and public sector experience deepens. It’s possible and perhaps likely that additional steps will be needed with time. But as Mark Twain once noted, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” The time to start is now.

Opportunities from facial recognition

As with all new technology, the uses of facial recognition are multiplying in both predictable and surprising ways. But it’s increasingly clear that a great many of these uses have created many new and positive benefits for people around the world.

It’s striking to review the breadth of this innovation. Police in New Delhi recently trialed facial recognition technology and identified almost 3,000 missing children in four days. Historians in the United States have used the technology to identify the portraits of unknown soldiers in Civil War photographs taken in the 1860s. Researchers successfully used facial recognition software to diagnose a rare, genetic disease in Africans, Asians and Latin Americans. And in October, the National Australia Bank designed a proof of concept to enable customers to withdraw money from an Automatic Teller Machine using facial recognition and a PIN.

Microsoft is one of several companies playing a leading role in developing facial recognition technology.  We’re working with customers around the world, while acting aggressively on industry-leading efforts to improve the capability of this technology to recognize faces with a range of ages and skin tones. Just last month, a new evaluation conducted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, or NIST, verified the progress we’ve made in developing facial recognition technology that now ranks in the top tier across the IT sector. The algorithms Microsoft submitted to that evaluation were consistently ranked as the most accurate or nearly the most accurate of 127 algorithms tested.  We believe in the future of facial recognition technology and the positive role it can play.

Problems that need to be addressed

At the same time, we need to be clear-eyed about the risks and potential for abuse. As we’ve continued to assess where this technology is heading, we believe there are three problems that governments need to address.

First, especially in its current state of development, certain uses of facial recognition technology increase the risk of decisions and, more generally, outcomes that are biased and, in some cases, in violation of laws prohibiting discrimination.

Second, the widespread use of this technology can lead to new intrusions into people’s privacy.

And third, the use of facial recognition technology by a government for mass surveillance can encroach on democratic freedoms.

We believe all three of these problems should be addressed through legislation, as described below.

Addressing bias and discrimination

First, especially in the current state of development, certain uses of facial recognition technology increase the risk of decisions, outcomes and experiences that are biased and even in violation of discrimination laws. Recent research has demonstrated, for example, that some facial recognition technologies have encountered higher error rates when seeking to determine the gender of women and people of color. This makes it especially important that Microsoft and other tech companies continue the work needed to identify and reduce these errors and improve the accuracy and quality of facial recognition tools and services. This work is underway, and we’re making important progress. It’s equally critical that we work with customers closely to ensure that facial recognition services are deployed properly in ways that will reduce these risks. Over time, we believe that well-functioning market forces can encourage the technology innovation that is needed.

But we also believe that new laws are needed in this area, and for two distinct reasons. First, market forces will work well only if potential customers are well-informed and able to test facial recognition technology for accuracy and risks of unfair bias, including biases that arise in the context of specific applications and environments. Tech companies currently vary in their willingness to make their technology available for this purpose. As a result, some academic tests of these services have omitted some of the market leaders. And when important advocacy organizations have tried to perform tests, they’ve almost immediately been met by rejections and criticism by some providers who claim that the testing is deficient. As a society, we need legislation that will put impartial testing groups like Consumer Reports and their counterparts in a position where they can test facial recognition services for accuracy and unfair bias in a transparent and even-handed manner.

We believe new laws can address this need with a two-pronged approach:

  • Requiring transparency.Legislation should require tech companies that offer facial recognition services to provide documentation that explains the capabilities and limitations of the technology in terms that customers and consumers can understand.
  • Enabling third-party testing and comparisons.New laws should also require that providers of commercial facial recognition services enable third parties engaged in independent testing to conduct and publish reasonable tests of their facial recognition services for accuracy and unfair bias. A sensible approach is to require tech companies that make their facial recognition services accessible using the internet also make available an application programming interface or other technical capability suitable for this purpose.

There’s a second reason we believe new legislation is needed in this area now, and it points to additional measures that new laws should address. While we’re hopeful that market forces may eventually solve issues relating to bias and discrimination, we’ve witnessed an increasing risk of facial recognition services being used in ways that may adversely affect consumers and citizens – today.

It’s obviously of little solace to think about the eventual improvements in this technology if it misidentifies you and is used in a way that deprives you of the ability to access government services, obtain admission to an event or purchase commercial products. These problems can be exacerbated when organizations deploy facial recognition beyond the limits of the current technology or in a manner that is different from what was intended when they were designed. We believe that a new law can help address these concerns without imposing onerous obligations on businesses and other users. This too involves a two-pronged legal approach:

  • Ensuring meaningful human review.While human beings of course are not immune to errors or biases, we believe that in certain high-stakes scenarios, it’s critical for qualified people to review facial recognition results and make key decisions rather than simply turn them over to computers. New legislation should therefore require that entities that deploy facial recognition undertake meaningful human review of facial recognition results prior to making final decisions for what the law deems to be “consequential use cases” that affect consumers. This includes where decisions may create a risk of bodily or emotional harm to a consumer, where there may be implications on human or fundamental rights, or where a consumer’s personal freedom or privacy may be impinged.
  • Avoiding use for unlawful discrimination.Finally, it’s important for the entities that deploy facial recognition services to recognize that they are not absolved of their obligation to comply with laws prohibiting discrimination against individual consumers or groups of consumers. This provides additional reason to ensure that humans undertake meaningful review, given their ongoing and ultimate accountability under the law for decisions that are based on the use of facial recognition.

Protecting people’s privacy

Second, the widespread use of facial recognition technology can lead to new intrusions into people’s privacy. For example, every public establishment could install cameras connected to the cloud with real-time facial recognition services.

Interestingly, the privacy movement in the United States was born from improvements in camera technology. In 1890, future Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis took the first step in advocating for privacy protection when he co-authored an article with colleague Samuel Warren in the Harvard Law Review advocating “the right to be let alone.” The two argued that the development of “instantaneous photographs” and their circulation by newspapers for commercial gain had created the need to protect people with a new “right to privacy.”

Technology today gives a new meaning to “instantaneous photographs” that Brandeis and Warren probably never imagined. From the moment one steps into a shopping mall, it’s possible not only to be photographed but to be recognized by a computer wherever one goes. Beyond information collected by a single camera in a single session, longer-term histories can be pieced together over time from multiple cameras at different locations. A mall owner could choose to share this information with every store. Stores could know immediately when you visited them last and what you looked at or purchased, and by sharing this data with other stores, they could predict what you’re looking to buy on your current visit.

Our point is not that the law should deprive commercial establishments of this new technology. To the contrary, we are among the companies working to help stores responsibly use this and other digital technology to improve shopping and other consumer experiences. We believe that a great many shoppers will welcome and benefit from improvements in customer service that will result.

But people deserve to know when this type of technology is being used, so they can ask questions and exercise some choice in the matter if they wish. Indeed, we believe this type of transparency is vital for building public knowledge and confidence in this technology. New legislation can provide for this in a straightforward approach:

  • Ensuring notice. The law should require that entities that use facial recognition to identify consumers place conspicuous notice that clearly conveys that these services are being used.
  • Clarifying consent.The law should specify that consumers consent to the use of facial recognition services when they enter premises or proceed to use online services that have this type of clear notice.

In effect, this approach will mean that people will have the opportunity to vote with their feet – or their keyboards or thumbs. They’ll be informed, and they can ask questions or take their business elsewhere if they wish.

We appreciate that some, including consumer groups, will argue that the law should go farther, especially when it comes to the issue of consumer consent. In Europe, it already does. It’s important to consider these views. For example, consent to use facial recognition services could be subject to background privacy principles, such as limitations on the use of the data beyond the initially defined purposes and the rights of individuals to access and correct their personal data. But from our perspective, this is also an area, perhaps especially in the United States, where this new regulation might take one quick step and then we all can learn from experience before deciding whether additional steps should follow.

Protecting democratic freedoms and human rights

Third, the use of facial recognition technology by a government can encroach on democratic freedoms and human rights. Democracy has always depended on the ability of people to assemble, to meet and talk with each other and even to discuss their views both in private and in public. This in turn relies on the ability of people to move freely and without constant government surveillance.

There are many governmental uses of facial recognition technology that will protect public safety and promote better services for the public without raising these types of concerns. There is an increasing number of such services in place already, and we should encourage them subject to the other protections described here.

But there is one potential use for facial recognition technology that could put our fundamental freedoms at risk. When combined with ubiquitous cameras and massive computing power and storage in the cloud, a government could use facial recognition technology to enable continuous surveillance of specific individuals. It could follow anyone anywhere, or for that matter, everyone everywhere. It could do this at any time or even all the time. This use of facial recognition technology could unleash mass surveillance on an unprecedented scale.

Unprecedented, but not unimagined. As George Orwell described in his novel “1984,” one vision of the future would require that citizens must evade government surveillance by finding their way secretly to a blackened room to tap in code with hand signals on each other’s arms – because otherwise cameras and microphones will capture and record their faces, voices and every word. Orwell sketched that vision nearly 70 years ago. Today technology makes that type of future possible.

But not inevitable.

We must ensure that the year 2024 doesn’t look like a page from the novel “1984.” An indispensable democratic principle has always been the tenet that no government is above the law. Today this requires that we ensure that governmental use of facial recognition technology remain subject to the rule of law. New legislation can put us on this path.

  • Limiting ongoing government surveillance of specified individuals.To protect against the use of facial recognition to encroach on democratic freedoms, legislation should permit law enforcement agencies to use facial recognition to engage in ongoing surveillance of specified individuals in public spaces only when:
    • a court order has been obtained to permit the use of facial recognition services for this monitoring; or
    • where there is an emergency involving imminent danger or risk of death or serious physical injury to a person.

It will be important for legislators to consider the standards for obtaining court orders in this area. For the most part, we believe this should be based on traditional rules like probable cause for search warrants. But there may be other narrow circumstances that also should be permissible, such as appropriate uses to help locate missing persons.

It’s worth noting that this approach builds on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decisions. In June, the court decided that the government cannot obtain without a search warrant the cellphone records that show the cell sites, and hence the physical locations, where someone has traveled. In Carpenter v. United States, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for a majority of the court that an individual has a “legitimate expectation of privacy in the record of his physical movements” that are recorded in these cell site records.

Even though we travel with our phones in public and in effect share our location with our cellular provider, the Supreme Court concluded that our location records are covered by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution and its protection of our right to be secure in our “persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” Therefore, the court decided that the government cannot track our movements through our phones and these cell site records unless it secures from an independent judge a search warrant based on probable cause to believe that we have committed a crime.

Put in this context, facial recognition raises a new constitutional question: do our faces deserve the same protection as our phones? From our perspective, the answer is a resounding yes.

As a company, Microsoft has brought four lawsuits against the U.S. government since 2013 to protect people’s privacy rights in an era when new technology can enable mass surveillance. We repeatedly have sought to preserve longstanding protections – and in our view timeless values – that are embodied in the First and Fourth Amendments to the Constitution. From our vantage point, it’s important to act before an excessive use of facial recognition technology can put these freedoms at risk. And while these issues ultimately may find their way to the U.S. Supreme Court, as one of our four cases did this past February, they should begin with the people who are elected by the people to protect our rights – our legislators in state capitals and Washington, D.C.

Looking beyond law and regulation

While we believe that new laws and regulations are indispensable, we also recognize that they are not a substitute for the responsibility that needs to be exercised by tech companies. In July, we announced that we would undertake work to assess and develop additional principles to govern our facial recognition work. Today, we make good on an important aspect of this work by publishing the principles that we will adopt for Microsoft’s facial recognition work and inviting feedback to guide our implementation of them.

List of Microsoft facial recognition principles

Over the past six months, we have spent considerable time seeking input and advice from our employees, customers, public officials, academics and groups across civil society. We have benefitted from discussions in the United States and around the world. We have decided to take the next step today by adopting six principles that address the concerns we believe governments need to address as well. These are:

  1. Fairness.We will work to develop and deploy facial recognition technology in a manner that strives to treat all people fairly.
  2. Transparency.  We will document and clearly communicate the capabilities and limitations of facial recognition technology.
  3. Accountability.We will encourage and help our customers to deploy facial recognition technology in a manner that ensures an appropriate level of human control for uses that may affect people in consequential ways.
  4. Nondiscrimination.We will prohibit in our terms of service the use of facial recognition technology to engage in unlawful discrimination.
  5. Notice and consent.We will encourage private sector customers to provide notice and secure consent for the deployment of facial recognition technologies.
  6. Lawful surveillance.We will advocate for safeguards for people’s democratic freedoms in law enforcement surveillance scenarios, and will not deploy facial recognition technology in scenarios that we believe will put these freedoms at risk.

Next week we will publish a document detailing these principles, and we will work in the coming months to gather feedback and suggestions from interested individuals and groups on how we can best implement them.

As we take this step, we’re cognizant of the need to create policies, processes and tools to make these principles effective across our company. We will pursue this work and will formally launch these principles, together with this supporting framework, before the end of March 2019.

As with the regulatory issues discussed here, we’re taking an incremental approach with the adoption of these principles. We readily recognize that we don’t yet have all the answers. Given the early stage of facial recognition technology, we don’t even know all the questions. But we believe that taking a principled approach will provide valuable experience that will enable us to learn faster. As we do, we’re committed to sharing what we learn, perhaps most especially with our customers through new material and training resources that will enable them to adopt facial recognition in a manner that gives their stakeholders and the public the confidence they deserve.

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