According to a report from the New York Daily News, Google has been using some controversial methods, to say the least, in order to improve its facial recognition system.
It seems that the tech giant has been funding a project that specifically targets people of color in order to build a large database which will allow upcoming devices like the Pixel 4 smartphone to not suffer from racial bias. Of course, that’s not really an issue, as facial recognition systems are notoriously bad when it comes to identifying people with darker skin tones.
“We regularly conduct volunteer research studies. For recent studies involving the collection of face samples for machine learning training, there are two goals.” A Google spokesperson said. “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.”
However, the method Google used to collect the data it needed is questionable, at best: it paid some hired temps to go out and hand $5 gift card to people on the street in order to collect face scans. But that’s not all: according to some people who worked for the project, Google went even further.
Allegedly, the company asked the teams to target students on college campuses, attendees of the BET Awards which took place in Los Angeles and homeless people living on the streets of Atlanta.
The project leaders were asked to target people of color and not tell them that their faces were being recorded even life about it if they had to, as long as they collected all the data they needed.
“We were told not to tell (people) that it was video, even though it would say on the screen that a video was taken,” one of the team members said. They added that, even if the person noticed a video was being recorded, they were supposed to tell them that the device was not recording.
Some of the methods involved just telling them to play around with the phone for a few minutes in order to get the gift card or try out a new app for the same reward. If the subjects became suspicious, the temps were encouraged to downright just walk away from the conversation.
“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,” another temp said. “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.”
Most of them did not even mention the survey or the app test was done in Google’s name.
Google stated that all the participants had to sign a consent form that allowed all the data to be recorded before they took part in the entire business but most of those who were trained to conduct the survey insist they were not only trained to lie but also be pushy when it came to collecting the necessary data.
“They just said, ‘Do you want to enter a survey? We’ll give you a Starbucks gift card,’” Kelly Yam, 18, has said of the method used to approach her. “They said it was a survey and we thought they were students. I don’t think I even realized there was a consent form.”
Google still has to release an official statement regarding the situation.