IBM was the first of the three companies to announce it was taking its foot off the pedal on facial recognition, and it's also made the most permanent commitment.CEO Arvind Krishna made the announcement in a letter to members of Congress including Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris on June 8.IBM no longer offers general purpose IBM facial recognition or analysis software, Krishna wrote. IBM firmly opposes and will not condone uses of any technology, including facial recognition technology offered by other vendors, for mass surveillance, racial profiling, violations of basic human rights and freedoms.He added that IBM hoped to start a national dialogue on the use of facial recognition by law enforcement.The announcement was welcomed by many, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.Experts Business Insider spoke to said it was a move in the right direction, but that the language IBM had used in its announcement gave it some room to potentially keep selling facial recognition tech in future.Eva Blum-Dumontet, a senior researcher at Privacy International who specializes in IBM, told Business Insider the specification that it would stop selling general purpose software gives the firm room to develop custom software for clients.We'll have to see what that means in practice. It's worth bearing in mind that a lot of the work IBM does is actually customized work for their customers, so it's possible we're not seeing the end of IBM doing facial recognition at all, they're just changing the label, said Blum-Dumontet.Even if IBM's announcement was cynically motivated or hedged, it was at least the first domino to fall.Amazon announced on June 10 it was suspending sale of its facial recognition software Rekognition to law enforcement for one year.We've advocated that governments should put in place stronger regulations to govern the ethical use of facial recognition technology, and in recent days, Congress appears ready to take on this challenge. We hope this one-year moratorium might give Congress enough time to implement appropriate rules, and we stand ready to help if requested, Amazon said in its announcement.The ACLU said the one-year break doesn't go far enough. This surveillance technology's threat to our civil rights and civil liberties will not disappear in a year, Nicole Ozer, technology and civil liberties director for the ACLU, said in a press statement.Dr. Nakeema Stefflbauer, an AI ethics policy expert, also told Business Insider that while Amazon's statement is a step in the right direction, it doesn't address what will happen to all the police departments which already have the software. Far better than suspending further sales would be recalling the software altogether, as is commonly done with other faulty or unreliable products,said Stefflbauer.Andy Jassy, Amazon's head of Amazon Web Services, said in a February 2020 interview that the company does not know how many police forces have bought Rekognition.Rekognition has come under particular scrutiny from activists in the past. In July 2018 the ACLU tested the software on members of congress. During the test Rekognition confused 28 congresspeople of color with people who had been arrested. MIT researcher Joy Buolamwini also published a paper in January 2019 which found Rekognition was consistently worse at identifying faces belonging to women and people of color.Amazon's response was that the activists and researchers were not paying enough attention to the software's confidence threshold, a percentage it spits out saying how sure it is it has identified the right person. As it started to sell the tool to police forces however, reports emerged that law enforcement officers weren't paying attention to the tool's confidence threshold either, and were even running composite sketches and photos of celebrities through the system in their hunt for suspects.Microsoft's president Brad Smith said in an interview with the Washington Post on Thursday, June 11, that Microsoft does not sell facial recognition tech to US police forces, and committed to not sell it until a national law governing its use is brought in.The number one point that I would really underscore is this: we need to really use this moment to pursue a strong national law to govern facial recognition that is grounded in the protection of human rights, said Smith.This came two days after more than 250 Microsoft employees published an open letter calling on the firm to sever business relationships with police forces more generally.Scholars and activists like Joy Buolamwini, Dr. Timnit Gebru, and Deb Raji are not alone in their push for fairness and accountability in technology that is deployed at scale. But the turnaround from big tech companies is really stunning, in light of the incredible attacks and attempts to discredit these women that their research was initially met with, said Stefflbauer.It should not be the responsibility of members of a discriminated group to prove that a commercial technology used on millions of people is unfairly targeting and victimizing them, but that has so far been the case.In her email to Business Insider, Joy Buolamwini said the tech giants should throw more of their weight behind promoting racial equality.I also call on all companies that substantially profit from AI — including IBM, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, Google, and Apple— to commit at least $1 million each towards advancing racial justice in the tech industry.The money should go directly as unrestricted gifts to support organizations like the Algorithmic Justice League, Black in AI, and Data for Black Lives that have been leading this work for years. Racial justice requires algorithmic justice.