Google is now in the line of fire for how it went about prepping for the face unlock feature for its upcoming Pixel 4 smartphone. It is being reported that Google contractors were out to collect the face recognition data to train the new feature and it software with, and these contractors were not always the most up front about why they were asking people to sign up for this. The New York Daily News reports that while the pubic line being used by the company was that every user who agreed to participate signed a consent form, but the contractors suggest that that is not all that happened during this data collection.
According to the New York Daily News, a spokesperson from Google acknowledged the goal of the data collection. “We regularly conduct volunteer research studies. For recent studies involving the collection of face samples for machine learning training, there are two goals. First, we want the Pixel 4’s face-unlock feature to be unbiased. It’s critical we have a diverse sample, which is an important part of building an inclusive product,” the spokesperson said. "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," they added.
The people collecting the data worked as TVCs, short for "temporary, vendor and contractors" who are in much greater number than Google's own employees on the company's roster. The TVCs are affiliated to a firm called Randstad. Temp workers the paper spoke with said that they were trained to be convincing, and even lie to people if need be about the purpose of this data collection.
The Google Pixel 4 series of phones will be officially launched on October 15. According to the report, Google's aim is to build a diverse database, ostensibly so that biometric-products on Pixel 4 don't suffer from racial bias. Earlier, facial recognition technology had a hard time identifying people with darker skin. Google wants to avoid those pitfalls in its upcoming smartphone and has hired people who worked as TVCs (temporary vendors and contractors) to collect face scans from a variety of people on the street using $5 gift cards as an incentive. The TVCs told The News that they were paid through a third-party employment firm called Randstad.
But the contractors working for the project said that Google's appetite for data led to questionable and misleading methods. They said teams were sent to target homeless people in Atlanta, unsuspecting students on college campuses around the US and attendees of the BET Awards festivities in Los Angeles, among other places. The report said that some TVCs were asked to gather data by characterising the scan as a “selfie game” similar to Snapchat. One of the workers said that they have been asked 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.”
The people who worked on the project out of Los Angeles told The News that they were encouraged by Randstad to think of themselves as potential full-time Google hires if they hit their daily quota of 3-D face scans.
Notably, an image of the agreement used several months ago and shared with The News appeared to give Google vast leeway with the face data. According to it, Google could keep scanning for data “as long as needed to fulfil the purposes, which is expected to be about five years.” Furthermore, it gave Google the right to “aggregate the research data” in a way that makes subjects anonymous. 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," reported the Daily News.