UPDATED 22:13 EDT / OCTOBER 02 2019

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Google reportedly used questionable methods to improve facial recognition

Earlier this year Google LLC reportedly was handing out $5 gift certificates to anyone willing to give up their face so the company could improve its Pixel 4’s face unlock system. New reports suggest the company hired to do that by Google have been employing questionable tactics.

According to that report by the New York Daily News today, Google has been hiring contractors to go out and collect images of faces on the streets, and in the interest of diversity, has been targeting a lot of people with darker skin.

“For recent studies involving the collection of face samples for machine learning training, there are two goals,” Googl explained in a statement. “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.”

Second, Google added, “Pixel 4’s face unlock will be a powerful new security measure, and we want to make sure it protects as wide a range of people as possible.”

But the Daily News spoke to people involved with this data collection and it seems some of the volunteers may have been misled. Working for a firm called Randstad and going to college campuses to get the images, the contractors said they were told to conceal the fact volunteers’ faces would actually be recorded.

One contractor said he was told to tell the volunteers all they were doing was playing a “selfie game,” and after a couple of minutes playing around with a phone they would get their gift certificate.

“We were told not to tell (people) that it was video, even though it would say on the screen that a video was taken,” said one source. “If the person were to look at that screen after the task had been completed, and say, ‘Oh, was it taking a video?’… we were instructed to say, ‘Oh it’s not really.’”

Other sources said similar things, that to get the data they were told to distract the person and confuse them.

Worst of all, though, on occasions the contractors were told to target black people and homeless black people. According to one Randstad former employee, that was because “they’re the least likely to say anything to the media.”

Google and Randstad have not yet responded to those allegations.

Image: Marchnwe/Flickr

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