Google Reportedly Targeted Homeless People With ‘Dark Skin’ to Improve Facial Recognition Technology

A report from the New York Daily News says Google was using deceptive practices to collect face scans.
Photograph: Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

Facial recognition technology’s failures when it comes to accurately identifying people of color have been well documented and much criticized. But an attempt by Google to improve its facial recognition algorithms by collecting data from people with dark skin is raising further concerns about the ethics of the data harvesting.

Google has been using subcontracted workers to collect face scans from members of the public in exchange for $5 gift cards, according to a report from the New York Daily News. The face scan collection project had been previously reported, but anonymous sources described unethical and deceptive practices to the Daily News.

The subcontracted workers were employed by staffing firm Randstad but directed by Google managers, according to the report. They were instructed to target people with “darker skin tones” and those who would be more likely to be enticed by the $5 gift card, including homeless people and college students.

“They said to target homeless people because they’re the least likely to say anything to the media,” a former contractor told the Daily News. “The homeless people didn’t know what was going on at all.”

“I feel like they wanted us to prey on the weak,” another contractor told the Daily News.

Randstad did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Google defended the project but said it was investigating allegations of wrongdoing.

The contractors also described using deceptive tactics to persuade subjects to agree to the face scans, including mischaracterizing the face scan as a “selfie game” or “survey”, pressuring people to sign a consent form without reading it, and concealing the fact that the phone the research subjects were handed to “play with” was taking video of their faces.

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SOURCE: The Guardian, Julia Carrie Wong