comscore Google contractors targeted homeless and people with darker skin

Google contractors allegedly targeted homeless and people with darker skin for Pixel 4 facial recognition

Google contractors have reportedly been collecting face data to train the new Face ID system on the upcoming Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL.

  • Published: October 4, 2019 4:00 PM IST
Google Pixel 4 XL Hands-on YouTube

Google will launch the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL at an event in New York on October 15. The smartphones are not expected to be a huge departure from its predecessor in terms of design. However, they are tipped to bring a couple of new features to the table. One of the most talked about feature is the inclusion of Project Soli radar. The dedicated set of sensors are expected to enable gesture recognition and face unlock mechanism. Ahead of its launch, Google has been found collecting face data to train the facial recognition algorithm.

The search giant confirmed that its employees have been collecting face data from those willing to trade it for a $5 gift card. While the practice was questioned, a new report raises further concerns about the method. According to a report from the New York Daily News, a Google contractor might have used questionable practice to get those facial recognition data. The report claims that the contractor targeted groups of homeless people and tricked college students to get those facial scans. These people were reportedly not aware of them being recorded for training Google’s face algorithm.

The report cites several sources who allegedly worked on the project stating that contracting agency Randstad uses questionable practice. It report sent teams to Atlanta explicitly to target homeless people and those with dark skin. The contractors collected data without stating that they were working for Google. They also did not reveal that they were actually recording these people’s faces as part of its facial recognition program. The report does not confirm whether Google was aware of Randstad going after homeless people.

google, google pixel 4, pixel 4 face recognition, face recognition, face id

Photo: NY Daily News

However, the report does mention that a Google manager instructed the group to target people with darker skin. “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.”

The report also highlights the contractor enticing cash-strapped subjects in California by mentioning the state law that allows gift cards less than $10 to be exchanged for cash. There are also pictures of the alleged device used to capture the facial data included in the report. The picture shows a phone encased in a large enclosure and sealed with tamper-detection stickers. The forehead of the device is identical to the one seen on the leaked Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL.

Ahead of the launch of Face ID on iPhone X in 2017, Apple also collected facial recognition data. Google is also collecting face data in order to ensure that there is no bias against people of color. It is trying to ensure that the system works reliably by collecting facial recognition data. However, this whole saga shows that Google’s contractor did not adhere to ethical standards and just went about collecting data using poor means.

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  • Published Date: October 4, 2019 4:00 PM IST