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Founders of facial recognition software developer NtechLab resign claiming they refuse to continue working in Russia

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Artem Kukharenko and Alexander Kabakov, founders of AI firm NtechLab, have left the company over disagreements with its management and investors, primarily over the firm’s decision to continue working in Russia, according to a Reuters report. According to Kukharenko and Kabakov, they insisted that the company should leave the country and relocate all its employees abroad.

«Most shareholders supported management, so we had no other option than to resign from the company,» Kukharenko told Reuters.

One of the founders left Russia in December 2021 while the other left in March 2022, shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, they said. Kukharenko and Kabakov added that they began discussing the need to wind down all projects in Russia after Alexei Navalny was poisoned in August 2020. “It became clear that the country is moving towards a disaster, although no one could have imagined that the country would start a war,” said Kukharenko, who was head of research at NtechLab prior to his resignation.

NtechLab, responding to a Reuters query, said the decision to stay in Russia was made unanimously by the company's board of directors, and no one – including Kukharenko and Kabakov – exercised their veto power over the ruling. The founders, however, cladime the matter was never put to a vote.

The two founders’ comments came after Reuters published a special report on Tuesday about how Russian law enforcement officials use facial recognition to identify and detain protesters and opposition activists. NtechLab’s FindFace is one of the algorithms that powers Moscow’s facial recognition system.

Rostec, a Russian state-owned defense conglomerate, bought part of NtechLab in 2018. The facial recognition system developed by the company was first launched in Moscow and then in 10 other Russian cities.

In 2022, the Anti-Corruption Foundation (ACF) put Kukharenko and Kabakov on its “list of corrupt figures and warmongers,” and then struck both men from the list, as they had both left Russia and condemned the invasion of Ukraine.

In October, the ACF changed its mind and put the NtechLab founders back on the list.

“Kabakov and Kukharenko's repentance was not public enough, and the information they provided is not comparable in importance to their contribution in building the police state,” read the ACF’s explanatory statement.

Cover photo: A signboard with the logo of software firm NTechLab is on display at the company’s offices in Moscow, Russia January 24, 2020. Source: Reuters / Alexander Marrow.

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