back to article IBM quits facial recognition because Black Lives Matter

IBM has discontinued its "general-purpose" facial recognition and analysis software. News that Big Blue has binned the products came in a letter penned by CEO Arvind Krishna and sent to two US senators and three members of the house that references IBM’s past actions to create an inclusive workplace, but lamenting that “the …

  1. Robert Grant Silver badge

    The inclusive workplace that fires people over 40. Good work.

    1. MrMerrymaker Bronze badge

      The the inclusive workplace with a dark history.

      Not that you'd know it from their centennial presentation I saw when I was there. It trundled along a time line through their history, got to 1939, and they must have had a scant few years as the next year covered was 1950!

      1. Wellyboot Silver badge

        1940-50, pretty much everything was government work in ordnance manufacturing or secret.

        Was the 1933 German census mentioned at all? that was very useful collating lists of 'undesirables'.

      2. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Bronze badge

        IBM were busy helping crack Japanese ciphers...

      3. IGotOut Silver badge

        It's easy to point the finger at IBM, but a huge amount of the US was either sympathetic or apathetic to Nazi Germany. Many companies were dealing with the Nazi government.

        Had Japan not attacked the US and Germany not declared war on the US, it's unlikely the US would have ever entered thee war.

        1. EveryTime

          I don't agree about the U.S. not entering the war, but do agree with your main point: many large U.S. corporations engaged in world trade, and world trade meant selling to Axis countries. Many in the U.S. praised the German economic recovery from afar, with most of those not understanding the "ground truth" of what was happening.

          Most here know of the IBM sales that helped Nazi Germany track undesirables, which was largely a commercial rather than ideological relationship. Few talk about Ford's outright praise and admiration for the Nazi leaders. (I realize there is a little bit of "what about.." there. My point isn't that IBM should get a pass, but that they weren't atypical. They were willing suppliers rather than active supporters.)

          1. jospanner Bronze badge

            "not understanding"

            The letter from Adolf to Ford about hating Jews was just too difficult to read, presumably.

            Historically speaking, capitalists love a bit of fascism. You can always profit by it. It's why Adolf's cabinet was made of formerly centre-right conservatives.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Maybe a prudent strategy for the over 40s at IBM is to start recommending IBM.

      Nobody ever gets fired for recommending IBM...or so I've heard.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Over 40 ? Black or White, you're fired !

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        See, that's a totally fair and balanced program

  2. Qarumba


    ...our facial recognition software is crap and here's how we could use the death of a person to our lobbying politicians to not use other companies' software until ours is better.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Or...

      Hey, if it gets results. This and masks means the panopticon's held at bay for a few more years.

    2. spold Silver badge

      Re: Or... might not improve though as they will have just RA'd everyone in the facial recognition business unit.

    3. RegGuy1 Silver badge

      Re: Or...

      ...our facial recognition software is crap

      Who cares? Microsoft was shite for years. It didn't stop everyone using it. The fact that they shafted the competition is neither here nor there. Remember DRDOS? No, I don't either; by the time we found out via a court case they had been stitched up it was too late. That cunt Gates has much to answer for, but that's another story...

  3. Kevin Johnston Silver badge

    I hate stories like this

    You get all revved up to blast the company for their bad habits then they do something like this which may not fix all their issues but is a positive step

    Of course, it could be said that with their challenges to get this working they know just how bad it can be so are ideally placed to be a Subject Matter Expert for the failings in facial recognition.

    So, so conflicted about them now

  4. eldakka Silver badge

    Krishan also called for reform of police – and a database to record police misconduct

    Says the vendor of a commercial enterprise-class DBMS.

    1. Kabukiwookie Silver badge

      Don't worry, eveybody who really knew anything about DB2 has been fired in the last round of lay-offs, because they're too old and/or expensive so that'll probably be spiralling into the ground soon as well.

      HP did this some 18 years ago and gutted thei labs; people working there were expensive and Carly did not understand why she couldn't just replace these people with people fresh out of uni who will work for peanuts.

    2. veti Silver badge

      I think a database of police misconduct is a genius idea. Turnabout is always fair, right? See if it changes how they feel about databases and surveillance.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The world is saved!

    While IBM's facial recognition software has never been great^H^H^H meh (maybe "great" is too high a bar for facial recognition...) at least it didn't beat suspects into submission for petty "crimes" or turn the economically disadvantaged into criminals. At least not yet. There's a chance it might help. But it's a cost for IBM so lets get rid of it.

    On the other hand, you have IBM's employment practices. Over 40? Check. Discard. Bills to pay? Can't pay your car registration or your licence expired a week or two ago? Congratulations, you've won some quality time with your local Police department. Maybe you just get a warning. Or maybe this is the start of your descent into the criminal "justice" system where every step takes you further away from a job.

    IBM - cutting costs, not executive bonuses.

  6. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Good on IBM

    I will applaud any company that faces the reality that facial recog simply does not work in public areas. The error rate is way too high.

    So yeah, let's say that IBM is throwing in the towel at the opportune moment, I don't care. On this, the CEO is right and has made the right call.

    Let's see what comes of it.

    1. Version 1.0 Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Good on IBM

      I agree - the whole world western is facing the possibility of a change at the same level that we saw back in the 15th and 16th centuries, hopefully a restructuring of society towards universal better attitudes and behavior. The potential for any corporation (remember that in the US corporations are "people" too) that moving to the attitude that doing good is better than just making a profit and buying a few islands from the natives for the owners holiday home.

      It's interesting that these changes are now possible, and that the Renaissance (a massive change in the Western world) was a result of the world recovering from the Black Death.

    2. HildyJ Silver badge

      Re: Good on IBM

      One step forward is absolutely good, regardless of the reasons behind it.

      And while IBM has many sins to answer for, they deserve credit for this.

      One can only hope that other companies follow.

    3. Mark Exclamation

      Re: Good on IBM

      "I will applaud any company that faces the reality that facial recog simply does not work in public areas. The error rate is way too high."

      Will you tell the Chinese Communist Party, or shall I?

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Given IBM has sold off most of it's software business it's no surprise they want to shutter a piece of software that was pretty much rubbish when it came to facial recognition using the BLM movement to hide a commercial decision as something altruistic. IBM's management has no plays left in their playbook except to cut staff and to sell off what they can to try and prop up the share price. Customers have worked out they are getting crap service from our offshore teams, there's not enough of us locals to put out the fires anymore and they can get the same crap service from TCS or Wipro at a cheaper rate than what IBM charges.

    I was given the chop in the most recent layoffs and every one of the people I know who are being RA'd were over 50, not a single person under 40 appears to have been cut in this round which statistically speaking doesn't match normal layoff age ranges unless they are targeting specific age groups.

    With the sale of BigFix we've been directed to stop using it and to only use standard vendor tools provided by Microsoft and co. With the acquisition of Red Hat we've been told Ansible is the strategic direction for deployment and patch management - dumped the infrastructure in place and told to work out how to replace the existing tools ourselves. I did of course, my offshore colleagues are expecting me to spoon feed them on how to manage and deploy but this time around I have no interest or intention of doing so as I had done with BigFix and every other tool we used.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Well, they did slip up in the 1930's with the whole 'providing holocaust-enabling tech to the Nazis' gaffe. Nice to see they've learned from their mistakes.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      As did Ford and others. These companies also supplied Stalin, so where do you want to draw the line ? The allies supplied huge amounts of material to the Soviets who are now known to have sent more people to their graves than the Nazis. It is hard to prove and unlikely that IBM were complicit in the use of the technology they sold. The main point now is to learn from our mistakes and prevent FAANG from repeating the mistakes.

      Please also remember that at one point the British were the largest slave traders in the world, no longer.

      1. veti Silver badge

        The British did well out of the slave trade for a century. Then they spent another half century or more pouring blood and money into stopping it. The Royal Navy at its height chased slavers not only in the Atlantic, but all around Africa and the Indian Ocean too.

        So... sure, there's guilt. But there should also be some credit there. History is long, it's ridiculous to take one episode or period and claim this is the true character of a country.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Misplaced snark

    It's easy to be cynical about IBM's motivations here, but we should judge them by their actions - and judge those who continue to supply technologies like this to governments by their inaction.

  10. genghis_uk Bronze badge

    Oi Cressida!

    Are you listening?

    Facial recognition is bad - it doesn't work and it unfairly targets minorities.

    (No of course you bloody aren't!!)

    1. jospanner Bronze badge

      Re: Oi Cressida!

      (ref downvotes) Europeans love to gasp with shock and condemn racism in other countries, but become violently defensive when their own is criticised for the same reasons.

      1. genghis_uk Bronze badge

        Re: Oi Cressida!

        It would appear so...

        Either that or we have 2 Met Police reading the Reg (unlikely, way above their level of intelligence!)

  11. cd

    Ginny probably got rid of all the people who knew how it worked.

  12. mark l 2 Silver badge

    With even the WHO changing their stand on the wearing of face masks in public. I suspect IBM won't be the only ones looking to get out of this market. As any wide roll outs of facial recognition tech are about to hit a brick wall as suddenly half of the data points to identify someone from will be obscured by the face mask.

  13. mego


    Look, here's the problem with BLM. Statistically, white males are more likely to be killed in an encounter with the police. This is based on data published by left, right, and center wing publications (who again use police reports to analyze), to an average of over 50% MORE than black, Hispanic, and "other" (refer to statista 2020 for the best graphical detail). The statista graph covers 2017 (457 white vs 223 black), 2018 (399 white vs 209 black), 2019 ( 370 white vs 158 black), and 2020 (172 white vs 88 black); though this fact has been true for much longer based on FBI, police, and journalistic evidence. So, bullsh-t on the black society being targeted.

    Moreover, while anybody with half a brain is shocked and appalled at a life being lost, lets talk a bit about George Floyd and his supposed hero status. This is a man that's been jailed more than 5 times for aggravated robbery (***), drug dealing, among the many great things he's done include POINTING A LOADED WEAPON at a pregnant woman's belly while robbing her. This is NOT a hero people. This is NOT the kind of person you want to mourn.

    *** Aggravated robbery is court-talk for violent robbery including the use of a weapon AND/OR taking the firearm from a policeman by force to use in a criminal endeavor. Think on this one for a moment. This is a guy with aggravated assault charges, who is known to be armed and dangerous. What is your response to someone resisting arrest who is known for these crimes? Yes, smart alec, we know that's not murdering the guy, but you do use more force. And again, that is exactly who we are talking about here.

    1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: Hillarious

      "white males are more likely to be killed in an encounter with the police"

      Is that because there are more white males than black males in a population (leading to people of color being disproportionately detained, which is the half the point of the BLM message) or do you have some kind of source? Because I r doubt.


      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Hillarious

        "Table 3 reports tests of racial disparities by type of shooting. Model 0 tests whether there is evidence of racial disparity in the typical shooting (all variables are centered or effects coded). Controlling for predictors at the civilian, officer, and county levels, a person fatally shot by police was 6.67 times less likely (OR = 0.15 [0.09, 0.27]) to be Black than White and 3.33 times less likely (OR = 0.30 [0.21, 0.47]) to be Hispanic than White"

        "We did not find evidence for anti-Black or anti-Hispanic disparity in police use of force across all shootings, and, if anything, found anti-White disparities when controlling for race-specific crime"

        "Although officer race was related to racial disparities, the fact that Black and Hispanic civilians were more likely to be shot by same-race officers ..."

        "In terms of officer race, as the percentage of Black officers who shot in a FOIS increased, a person fatally shot was more likely to be Black (OR = 1.23 [1.03, 1.48]) than White."

    2. jospanner Bronze badge

      Re: Hillarious

      ok white boy

      1. mego

        Re: Hillarious

        An excellent example. If I said "Ok black boy" I'd find my post blocked. Yet yours is fine.

  14. Krassi

    AI facial recognition can't be abolished unfortunately. Effective actions might include controlling its use, by law if necessary, and actually getting it to work properly, in a non-biased way, and making clear the limitations, likelihood of error etc..

    IBM throwing in the towel might reflect their ability to do anything useful, but I don't see they should get any credit for being useless.

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