Company Threatens To Sue NBC For Reporting On Its Facial Recognition Tech Being Used Against Palestinians

from the how-not-to-handle-journalists dept

Earlier this week, NBC News had quite a story about a facial recognition tech company in Israel, named AnyVision, that is being used by the Israeli military to conduct surveillance on Palestinians in the West Bank. Much of the article focuses on the fact that Microsoft invested in AnyVision, at a time when Microsoft claims it's been taking the moral high ground and unwilling to work on more nefarious uses of things like facial recognition technology. The story hits on a bunch of different points that we regularly cover at Techdirt, from misuses of facial recognition to large company hypocrisy. But we're writing about it for a different reason: the way that AnyVision's CEO reacted upon being contacted by NBC reporters:

When NBC News first approached AnyVision for an interview, CEO Eylon Etshtein denied any knowledge of "Google Ayosh," threatened to sue NBC News and said that AnyVision was the “most ethical company known to man.” He disputed that the West Bank was “occupied” and questioned the motivation of the NBC News inquiry, suggesting the reporter must have been funded by a Palestinian activist group.

As a general rule, when reporters come calling, asking for comment on a questionable thing your company may be engaged in, don't threaten to sue. Also, generally speaking, calling yourself the "most ethical company known to man" probably throws up some red flags too (as does the denial of a program that NBC had documentation about...). All that really does is tell a reporter that they're on to something.

The story itself, of course, raises all sorts of questions about how governments, law enforcement, and the military might use facial recognition -- a technology that still hasn't been proven to be particularly accurate. There's a reason why many places are banning the use of the technology by law enforcement. At the very least, any such use deserves public discussion and scrutiny -- not bogus threats of lawsuits.

Filed Under: eylon etshtein, facial recognition, israel, journalism, palestinians, surveillance, threats
Companies: anyvision, microsoft, nbc


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  1. icon
    Koby (profile), 30 Oct 2019 @ 12:32pm

    Countdown

    Streisand Effect in 3... 2... 1...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Oct 2019 @ 12:36pm

    After the thousand plus unguided rocket barrages I am not at all surprised Palestinians are being spied on.

    I have a friend who is a US/Palestinian/Spanish (and maybe even Mexican) citizen. He's actual a Roman Catholic, not a Muslim but so far every Palestinian I've met in the United States has actually been a great person.

    I would love to see a facial recognition ban but I believe it will happen right after the press monitoring programs to catch leakers are banned.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    Gary (profile), 30 Oct 2019 @ 12:40pm

    Good Ideas

    Well I'm sure it was a smart move to sue NBC. It's easy to get the smaller press outlets to roll over. And it won't reflect badly at all.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    John Roddy (profile), 30 Oct 2019 @ 12:44pm

    It would be quite appropriate if the CEO ran his own face through their software and got identified as Barbara Streisand.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    norahc (profile), 30 Oct 2019 @ 12:45pm

    Re: Countdown

    You'd think an Isreali company would have at least heard of Streisand and her Effect.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Oct 2019 @ 1:11pm

    "most ethical company known to man"

    LOL - This sounds like a Trumpism.
    We have the best ethics, no one has better ethics than we do.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 30 Oct 2019 @ 1:23pm

    Re:

    Which is absolutely true... so long as you limit your sample size to one.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Oct 2019 @ 1:31pm

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Oct 2019 @ 1:39pm

    Re:

    That Linked-in post... lol.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 30 Oct 2019 @ 7:55pm

    Shooting your own foot, professional style

    Lie about already known facts, threaten legal actions for looking into their actions, claim to be 'the most ethical company known to man'...

    Oh yeah, they couldn't have sent the message 'we are involved in stuff we really don't want people looking into' any stronger had they taken out a mid-game superb owl ad saying so.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    Ed (profile), 31 Oct 2019 @ 7:29am

    Isn't this..

    ... typical Israeli behavior? Lie, cheat, steal, then lie, cheat, and steal when the facts are brought out into the light?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Oct 2019 @ 12:30pm

    Re: Isn't this..

    More like "typical sleazy corporate behavior", something the Israelis have no monopoly whatsoever on!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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