Google contractor accused of misleading subjects in biometric data collection project

Google’s new Pixel 4 will come with top notch facial recognition capabilities, yet the tech giant has encountered roadblocks in building a comprehensive database.

It has recently been accused of immoral collection practices such as hiring people to collect face scans by targeting dark skinned homeless people in Atlanta to improve the detection algorithm and compatibility, writes the New York Daily News, after speaking to a number of sources affiliated to the project.

Homeless people were not the only category targeted. Contractors were sent to scan people’s faces in many other locations including college campuses and BET Awards festivities in Los Angeles.

Some people who worked on the facial scan collection project said they were not fully informed about what was happening and why. After interviewing them, the media source concludes “Google’s ravenous appetite for data led to questionable and misleading methods.” They were hired by a third-party called Randstad and were asked to specifically go after dark skinned people, and lie about what they were doing, calling it a “selfie game.”

“One of the days of training was basically building a vocabulary that distracts the user from the actual task at hand as much as possible,” one of the contractors said for The News.

Participants were unaware that their biometric information was recorded and received a $5 gift card, while others could even redeem it for cash. If anyone asked for details, the contractors lied that the information was not recorded and rushed them into signing consent forms.

“It was a lot of basically sensory overloading the person into getting it done as quickly as possible and distracting them as much as possible so they didn’t even really have time to realize what was going on,” the sourced added.

The News retrieved an image of the consent agreement people were asked to sign, giving Google complete freedom over the data use.

“We regularly conduct volunteer research studies. For recent studies involving the collection of face samples for machine learning training, there are two goals,” confirmed a Google spokesperson.

“First, we want to build fairness into Pixel 4’s face unlock feature. It’s critical we have a diverse sample, which is an important part of building an inclusive product,” the spokesperson noted. “And second, security. Pixel 4’s face unlock will be a powerful new security measure, and we want to make sure it protects as wide a range of people as possible.”

Google claims the data collected is kept only for 18 months and then deleted if such a request is made.

“We’re taking these claims seriously and investigating them. The allegations regarding truthfulness and consent are in violation of our requirements for volunteer research studies and the training that we provided,” the Google spokesperson said.

Last month, in partnership with Jigsaw, Google delivered a massive database of visual deepfakes that is now part of the FaceForensics benchmark created by the Technical University of Munich and the University Federico II of Naples.

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