15 October 2019
Earlier this year, Google was reported to be scanning people's faces in exchange for offering a $5 Starbucks gift card. It was done for collecting face scan data for Pixel 4's facial unlocking technology. And now, a new NY Daily News report has revealed details about some of the tactics used by Google to obtain the data which are questionable, to say the least.
The report mentions that Google TVCs (temps, vendors, and contractors) were asked to target homeless and darker people along with college-going students in Atalanta for facial data collection. It further asked them to trick those users so that they would not that their faces were being recorded. These contractors were employed by a contracting agency called Randstad on Google's behalf.
The temps were even told to lie to maximize the data they can collect in a day. One of the lies used by them was to tell people that it was a mini-game similar to Snapchat. Their main aim was to collect facial data as quickly as possible so that people did not have enough time to understand what was going on. They would even ask people to click on the Next buttons quickly. If someone asked if they were being recorded, they were told to deny the same and if people seemed to be getting suspicious, they were told to walk away from there.
While the report goes into detail talking about all the dubious Google tactics, here is an excerpt to give you an idea:
"They said to target homeless people because they're the least likely to say anything to the media," the ex-staffer said. "The homeless people didn't know what was going on at all.
Some were told to gather the face data by characterizing the scan as a "selfie game" similar to Snapchat, they said. One said workers were told to say things like, "Just play with the phone for a couple of minutes and get a gift card," and, "We have a new app, try it and get $5."
Another former TVC said team members in California were specifically told they could entice cash-strapped subjects by mentioning a state law that says gift cards less than $10 can be exchanged for cash."
The idea behind focusing on dark people seems to make sense as Google would be aiming to make Pixel 4 face scanning to be as inclusive as possible. This is because we have seen facial recognition or object recognition algorithms struggling when it comes to identifying people of color. But it is the way contractors approached those people and misled them into getting their face scanned which is a matter of serious concern. At the time of writing this, neither Google nor Randstad offered any official statements on the matter but we will keep you in the loop.