We know that Google hired contractors to scan faces of random people to gather data in order to prep the Pixel 4’s Face Unlock system. Now a new report reveals that some of those contractors might have targeted homeless people to collect face data as well as tricked college students to get their face scans.
It was reported in July that Google employees in New York City were stopping random people and giving them $5 gift cards in exchange for their face data. Google later confirmed its “field research” to The Verge saying that it was collecting data to ensure the Pixel 4 works with a more diverse set of faces.
Google said that the Pixel 4’s face unlock system is built “with inclusiveness in mind.” However, as per a report by New York Daily News, some of the contractors might be using questionable methods to collect the face data.
Homeless people of colour and students were targeted
The report mentions a firm based out of Atlanta by the name of Randstad, which sent teams to gather data without telling people they were working on Google’s behalf or that their faces were being recorded. A former employee of Randstad told the publication that the contractor sent a team to Atlanta “specifically” to target black people there, including homeless black people.
The report claims that these teams were told to target homeless people because they were “least likely to say anything to the media.” Reportedly, teams were also dispatched to target unsuspecting students on college campuses around the US and attendees of the BET Awards festivities in Los Angeles, among other places.
Tricked into handing over the face data
Some workers were told by their supervisors not to tell people that they would be taking face scans. Some were instructed to gather the face data by characterizing the scan as a “selfie game” similar to Snapchat and some were instructed to tell people to “just play with the phone” or “try this new app” to get the $5 gift card.
As per the report, if the person enquires if the device was taking a video, the workers were told to say otherwise. The NY Daily News report also includes pictures of the hardware that was used to scan the faces. The device looks like a smartphone encased in a big cover.
Google can retain face data as long as it wants
In the images accessed by the publication, the agreement is visible which reads that Google could keep the scans “as long as needed to fulfill the purposes which are expected to be about five years.” It also gave Google the right to “retain, use or share non-personally identifying or aggregate data without limitation for any purpose,” and said the data could be processed “outside the country,” including places “where you may have fewer rights.”
In the past, Google addressed the privacy issue with its face scan research and told The Verge that all of the samples are “encrypted and access restricted” and the face data will only be kept for 18 months. It also said that anyone who participated in the study can request that their data is removed at any time. However, in the pictures accessed by NY Daily News, the terms and conditions visible on the scanning device mention that “there is no limit to how long or in what manner Google may retain, use or share the aggregate data”.
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