When Google first got its start in the early ’00s, the company was famous for a motto that set it apart from its competitors: “Don’t be evil.” Fast forward to today and the legitimacy of this creed might look a little more flimsy. Google is now one of the top entities responsible for ad tracking and user fingerprinting across the entire web — and that’s not even counting its digital assistant keeping recordings of your voice!
In a similarly shady move, Google is now piloting a program in several major cities where it’s giving away free $5 gift cards in exchange for a single photo of your face. The reason: to train the next generation of facial recognition software for its phone and web-based products.
With so many scary developments in play recently in the realm of privacy, can we really be sure that Google will uphold its old motto with the data it’s collecting? Is it actually something sinister, or is it just another case of crowdsourced innovation? We have the latest details from this new program and what it really means when you sign away your face to Google.
Google faces off with AI development
Getting artificial intelligence (AI) to recognize faces is easier said than done. Not only do you need to program the parameters that the software uses to read a face, but you also need to feed the AI actual pictures of faces in order to familiarize it with the shapes and contours of the human form.
In practice, this requires hundreds, if not thousands of images in order to account for the massive diversity in human appearance. And that’s just what Google is doing with a new pilot program it’s unveiled in a number of big cities across the U.S.
According to a report from ZDNet, Google employees are approaching pedestrians with a modified smartphone and asking them for a selfie in exchange for a $5 dollar gift card. The cards in question are typically for Amazon or Starbucks, and participants are required to sign a waiver before taking the photo.
The waiver, apparently, gives Google permission to use your face for its mobile software development and signing it gives it the right to use your image as it sees fit — provided that it’s used for development, of course.
It’s rumored that this project is being undertaken to prepare for the launch of the upcoming Pixel 4 smartphone — which is Google’s flagship mobile hardware. The phone is likely to include a faster processor, better camera, and enhanced AI features at launch.
Are people really signing their faces away for $5???
As it turns out, Google has had tremendous success with the program. People are naturally curious to speak with real people that claim to be Google engineers, and there’s something to be said about being a part of AI development. For many people on the street, the $5 gift card is just icing on the cake.
If you participate in Google’s facial data collection program, however, please note that you’re essentially giving them the right to use a picture of you in whatever manner the company feels is necessary towards their software development goals.
This is a massive sacrifice of privacy on the part of the participant, and when you look at the compensation involved, $5 is peanuts compared to the average rates that headshot models and stock photo subjects charge for their likeness.
Even still, there is much to be gained from such a sweeping collection of facial data. Apple’s FaceID makes far more limited use of data than Google’s system will, and with Google’s neural networks involved, the new AI will likely surpass it.
This will make recognition easier and faster for anyone using Google’s services and will provide a treasure trove of new data for the company to use for future projects.
Ultimately, whether you participate or not is up to you. It may sound fun to play a role in developing a new AI, but whether you’re comfortable with one of the biggest companies on Earth having carte blanche access to your face is a personal decision. If the Pixel 4 turns out to be a killer device in the end, maybe it will have been worth it.
Personally, I don’t feel the need to tell Google any more about myself. At this point in time, Google probably knows me better than my own family does!