Apparently, Google reportedly collecting data the old-fashioned way: by plucking people from the street, asking them for it, and paying each of them a certain sum.

Google just announced a face unlock feature for its forthcoming Pixel 4 flagship, which it claims is just as accurate and fast as Face ID on the iPhone X. This wasn't much of a surprise, though; hardware and code leaks suggested such a feature was indeed headed to the handset. What's surprising, however, is a new report claiming Google has been publicly gathering data to improve the system.

Google Collecting Face Data

As ZDNet and Android Police first reported, Google employees have been offering $5 gift certificates in actual streets in exchange for a facial scan. Google has confirmed that it was, indeed, conducting what it calls "field research," collecting face-scanning data to improve its algorithms and in turn bolster the Pixel 4's accuracy.

A spokesperson for the company claims the purpose of this field research is to ensure that the Pixel 4 works with a wide range of faces. Facial recognition systems have an awful history of gender and racial bias, as The Verge points out.

"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," says the spokesperson.

Indeed, if Google wants to train its algorithm to avoid such biases, it needs to take into account a diverse range of faces, and using just its employees' faces isn't going to cut it. Which makes Google's field research approach kind of smart. Also, it's not the first company to collect data this way. Apple, too, trained its facial recognition algorithm in a similar fashion, though it likely didn't send people out into the real word to collect face scans.

Data Privacy

As for the data gathering process itself, each person is asked for affirmative consent before they participate. Google aims to keep participants' anonymity as much as possible, so each is assigned an abstract identity number. The company also keeps each participant's email address to remove data when they request it. That's right — any participant can ask Google to have their face data deleted if they want.

The face scans will be kept for 18 months. These won't be associated with a Google ID and will be "encrypted and access restricted."

Thoughts about this approach? As always, if you have anything to share, feel free to sound them off in the comments section below!

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