The contracting firm Google hired to improve the upcoming Pixel 4’s face unlock technology targeted unsuspecting homeless people and people with dark skin for data collection, according to the New York Daily News.
Several sources who claimed they worked on the project told the Daily News that they were instructed by Ranstand, the agency Google tapped for collecting facial data, to single out homeless people and people with dark skin in Atlanta.
The contractors were also discouraged from telling those who participated that their faces were being recorded. To seem less conspicuous, the contractors offered $5 gift certificates as a reward.
“Just play with the phone for a couple minutes and get a gift card,” and, “We have a new app, try it and get $5,” are some of the tactical lures contractors told the Daily News they were taught to use.
But the Daily News’ sources say they were sent out to collect data from homeless people in Atlanta, unknowing college students, and BET Awards attendees in Los Angeles.
“They said to target homeless people because they’re the least likely to say anything to the media,” the ex-staffer said to the Daily News. “The homeless people didn’t know what was going on at all.”
Another former contractor said college campuses were “goldmines” because students on limited budgets respond well to gift certificates. They would rush students to prevent them from reading the consent form.
As for why Google would want to target people with dark skin, facial recognition scanners have struggled with racial bias in the past. It would make sense that Google wants to develop a diverse database for its biometric technology, but these methods seem dubious.
“We want to build fairness into Pixel 4’s face unlock feature,” a Google representative said in response to the Daily News’s reporting. “It’s critical we have a diverse sample, which is an important part of building an inclusive product.”
Deceptive data collection might not be the best way to enable a fair Pixel 4. It raises serious privacy concerns, among other issues.