Google is gearing up for the launch of its Pixel 4 smartphone, and as it does, it is seems to be readying for pausing or scrapping anything that could led to negative publicity. In a recent move, the company has announced that it is axing a controversial field-research program taking place in select US cities, that offered subjects $5 in exchange for a facial scan.
The move comes after newspapers picked up on Google’s program, discovering that one of the contracting agencies driving it was actually targeting the homeless, and tricking young college students into participating.
Why is Google scanning all these people anyway, you might ask!
Well, the whole idea with scanning random faces was to ensure that the upcoming Pixel 4 was able to recognize faces – and unlock the device – without a bias against people of color. That’s actually a very real issue where face-unlock technology is concerned, and the company is hoping to bridge the problem by building a massive, diverse database – in return for a $5 gift-card.
As per Google,
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 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 company has decided to suspend the program after the discovery that one – or more – of its contractors was tricking students and the homeless into taking the test. And in fact, the contractors were specifically targeting people of color, concealing the fact that people’s faces were being recorded and even straight-out lying to maximize their data collections.
Interestingly, the contractors and the temps hired to do the job are now coming forward and saying that they were doing just what they were taught to.
They said to target homeless people because they’re the least likely to say anything to the media. The homeless people didn’t know what was going on at all.
Apparently, they were also told to do anything and everything to meet their quotas, and were also asked to consider themselves as potential full-time hires for Google, If they just brought in enough faces everyday.
Meanwhile, Google has called the details “very disturbing” and has decided to suspend the program while it looks into it. Of course, Atlanta city attorney Nina Hickson’s barbed e-mail to the company, denouncing the program after the while thing was exposed in a New York Daily News article could also have something to do with its sudden back-tracking stance.
The possibility that members of our most vulnerable populations are being exploited to advance your company’s commercial interest is profoundly alarming for numerous reasons.