Microsoft pulls out of AnyVision investment following surveillance controversy

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Microsoft logo (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

What you need to know

  • Microsoft pulled out from its investment in Israeli facial recognition company AnyVision.
  • Last year, Microsoft invested $74 million in the company.
  • The move comes after an independent investigation into claims that AnyVision's technology was used by the Israeli government to surveil Palestinians on the West Bank.

Microsoft is selling its stake in Israeli facial recognition company AnyVision, NBC News reports. The move comes after Microsoft commissioned an independent investigation into claims that the company's technology was used by the Israeli government to surveil Palestinian people in the West Bank.

Microsoft initially invested $74 million in AnyVision last June through its M12 investment arm. After allegations of the Israeli government using the company's technology for surveillance of Palestinians arose in press reports last October, Microsoft enlisted former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and his team at law firm Covington & Burling to investigate the claims to determine whether AnyVision was in conflict with with Microsoft's ethical principles regarding facial recognition.

The results of the audit were published today, stating the following:

The available evidence demonstrated that AnyVision's technology has not previously and does not currently power a mass surveillance program in the West Bank that has been alleged in media reports. As such, Covington could not substantiate a breach of the Microsoft Global Finance Portfolio Company Pledge on Facial Recognition.

Covington says that it interviewed AnyVision employees and third parties, account records, and other documents as part of its investigation. However, Covington notes that its "review was limited in certain respects by legal restrictions on the disclosure of sensitive information."

"After careful consideration, Microsoft and AnyVision have agreed that it is in the best interest of both enterprises for Microsoft to divest its shareholding in AnyVision," Microsoft said in a statement to NBC News. "For Microsoft, the audit process reinforced the challenges of being a minority investor in a company that sells sensitive technology, since such investments do not generally allow for the level of oversight or control that Microsoft exercises over the use of its own technology."

Microsoft also said that, in an effort to ensure "greater oversight and control over the use of sensitive technologies," it will end minority investments in companies that deal with facial recognition technologies.

Dan Thorp-Lancaster

Dan Thorp-Lancaster is the former Editor-in-Chief of Windows Central. He began working with Windows Central, Android Central, and iMore as a news writer in 2014 and is obsessed with tech of all sorts. You can follow Dan on Twitter @DthorpL and Instagram @heyitsdtl