[Update: Confirmed] Google reportedly asked people to sell them their face data – possibly to train the Pixel 4
Google has a lot of resources at its disposal. Not only can they pump a lot of cash into a new project, but they also have a lot of employees who can experiment and test these new projects as well. Even with the resources Google has, there are times when even the Mountain View tech giant needs something extra. This type of extra help can really improve the company’s current artificial intelligence models and two reports say Google is paying for people’s face data (in public) by offering them a $5 gift card.
This story really took off over the quiet weekend when ZDNet reported that one of its writers’ friends had sold their face to Google for $5. It goes on to explain how this person’s friend was sitting around in New York and was approached by someone who said they worked for Google. The Google employee then asked the person if they would use an unidentifiable device to scan their own face. This person told the writer that the device was in a large case that was hard to identify. Some are speculating that it was the Pixel 4 being used, or at least a prototype with the same functionality.
They agreed, signed a waiver, scanned their face, and then received the $5 gift card. All the person knew was that Google was out in public “collecting data to improve the next generation of facial recognition phone unlocking.” This story has taken off since that report was published but it was actually a month ago in the /r/GooglePixel subreddit where essentially the same thing happened to user “oheightthirtytwo.” They were in New York, approached by a stranger, and then asked if they would use a device to scan their face for a $5 Starbucks gift card.
The person describes the smartphone to be in “a very thick, boxy, inconspicuous case” which made them believe it was the upcoming Pixel 4 smartphone. We know Google is working on an Apple-like Face ID feature and many assume it will be in the Pixel 4.
This isn’t something Google does all the time and, for whatever reason, they are out collecting as much facial imaging data as they can on a number of people. As mentioned before, this is going to be perfect for the company’s AI models. It will be interesting to see if this is something Google is doing for Android as a whole, or specifically for the upcoming Pixel smartphones.
Google confirmed to The Verge that they were indeed conducting “field research” for the Pixel 4’s Face Unlock feature. As expected, the purpose of the research is to make sure the facial recognition works with a wide variety of faces.
“Our goal is to build the feature with robust security and performance. We’re also building it with inclusiveness in mind, so as many people as possible can benefit.”
People who participated in Google’s field research were assigned an abstract identity number. At any time, they can request to have their face data deleted. Otherwise, the data is kept for 18 months and never associated with a Google ID.
Source: The Verge