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Axon Ethics Board Pulls Plug On Facial Recognition Tech Being Added To Its Body Cameras

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One of the major players in cop tech is bowing out of the facial recognition race. As Hayley Tsukayama reports for the EFF, Axon (formerly Taser) has decided there are far too many ethical and practical concerns to move forward with adding facial recognition tech to its popular bodycams.Axon actually has an ethics board -- something that certainly would have been welcome back in its Taser sales days. Perhaps having a few ethical discussions would have prevented dead Americans from being awarded postmortem declarations of "excited delirium," thus keeping law enforcement officers from being held accountable for killing people when they were only supposed to be arresting them.The Axon ethics board has arrived at the following conclusion concerning facial recognition software:

Current face matching technology raises serious ethical concerns. In addition, there are technological limitations to using this technology on body cameras. Consistent with the board's recommendation, Axon will not be commercializing face matching products on our body cameras…
There's a caveat:
… at this time.
Facial recognition is tabled. But it's not completely off the table. Axon can revisit this at any time and decide the ethical concerns are outweighed by public/officer safety and insert this software into the body cameras it sells as loss leaders to law enforcement.Color me skeptical, but as great as this sounds (at this time...), Axon may just be waiting for the legislative dust to settle a bit before it moves forward with this bodycam enhancement. San Francisco recently banned the use of facial recognition tech by law enforcement and recent government hearings involving other players in the crowded field haven't exactly created a receptive atmosphere for unproven surveillance tech more known for screwing up than catching criminals.Whichever way the wind shifts, Axon is ready. It already deploys a form of facial recognition to redact bodycam footage for public release.
To date, Axon's work on face recognition has revolved around detecting, tracking and re-identifying faces in videos for the purpose of blurring out or redacting those faces prior to public release, in service of protecting people's privacy rights. “Re-identification” refers to the automated process of finding all the re-occurrences of a person's face in a single video. These algorithms do not attempt to match the identity of the individual to a database, only to identify video frames that are likely to include faces so that they can be redacted.
While everything is sorted out, Axon will continue to solidify its lead in law enforcement adoption. Axon's business model is smart, even if it's not particularly new. Cash-strapped agencies are given cameras for next to nothing, but are tied into lucrative data/access contracts for years, allowing Axon to recoup the hardware costs with licensing and storage fees.There's nothing wrong with the way Axon handles its camera sales. It's just something cities need to be aware of. Failure to live up to their end of the contract could see a city's credit rating take a hit if it decides it would rather use another vendor.This declaration is Axon setting the standard for the industry. As the industry leader, it can influence the decisions of other companies, taking them out of the game before they can even get on the playing field. Law enforcement agencies insisting on facial recognition tech will be seen as outliers and the companies willing to sell to them will appear to be operating unethically. It's a smart move by Axon. I guess we should all enjoy the unintended side effects of Axon's anti-facial recognition declaration while we can.

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Gibson Guitar Declares Shift In IP Enforcement After Most Recent Public Backlash

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Our past posts on Gibson Guitar, the famed guitar-maker, have revealed roughly a decade of strict IP enforcement and other busuiness challenges. Between waffling on its support for SOPA and its own failures to properly innovate in a direction that met its customers' demand, never mind its odd legal trouble over "illegal" wood used in its guitars and the bankruptcy it underwent a few years back, we're not left with a picture of a well-oiled business. Despite that, emerging from bankruptcy, Gibson has continued its IP maximilist ways, most notably in the past few weeks with a lawsuit against the owner of Dean and Luna Guitars for trademark infringement and counterfeiting over several guitar body designs that the defendants claim aren't protectable.There are two important aspects of that specific dispute to note here. First, the public backlash against Gibson over the lawsuit was firm and swift. Second, this specific dispute originated with cease and desist notices sent out by Gibson's legal team back in 2017. That is particularly notable as it was only in November of 2018 that Gibson brought on a new CEO, James Curleigh. In the wake of the backlash over the past few weeks, Curleigh has gone out of his way to promise the public that Gibson is going to quickly move on from its IP maximilist ways.

Regarding criticism Gibson has faced for its legal actions, the company said in a statement that the past few weeks “have provided a ‘real time’ opportunity to start making the pivot from less legal leverage to more industry collaboration, with appropriate levels of awareness.” Furthermore, the company clarified that the recent attention on the lawsuits in process stem from several years of legal action initiated prior to the new leadership, headed by CEO and President James “JC” Curleigh, arriving in November of 2018. With regard to the inherited and ongoing legal dynamic with Dean Guitars, Gibson says its team has made attempts to directly communicate to “avoid a prolonged legal battle.” Said Curleigh, “I am proud of the progress we have made with our attention to quality, with the launch of the new collections, and with our renewed engagement to our Gibson authorized dealer base. At the same time, we acknowledge there are still legacy challenges to solve going forward, especially around brand protection and market solutions.”
On the one hand, it feels somewhat lame to let a company off the hook for filing a lawsuit two weeks ago just because the cease and desists were sent out two years prior to the current CEO's tenure. You're the CEO, dude. Tell the legal team to not file the suit if that's what you think it should do.All that being said, the words coming out of Curleigh's mouth are the right ones, as are those coming from the Gibson PR team. It's gratifying to watch a company bow to public backlash over an overtly aggressive IP enforcement stance. And hearing the company use language that used to be reserved for the craft beer industry, back before that industry was similarly ravaged by IP enforcement, is encouraging.
He continued, “It is time to make the modern-day shift from confrontation towards collaboration, whilst still protecting our brands, and we are committed to making this happen starting now."
What remains is seeing just how Curleigh's Gibson Guitar wants to balance that equation. If he can shift the culture of the company towards one that is human and awesome, all while giving fans of Gibson guitars what they want, it could be a major win for a company that recently looked quite lost.

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