If you’re working on any kind of software that uses facial recognition — a secure Face ID camera system for a phone is just one example that comes to mind — you need a good amount of data in order to train the AI that powers it. Google isn’t exactly new to the data collection game, but you might be surprised to learn that it’s been doing so via such an old-fashioned method.
As reported by ZDNet, Google employees have been observed stopping passers-by in the street and asking if they can have their faces. More specifically, if they can take photos of their faces to use the data. A friend of the writer Chris Matyszczyk quoted the Googler saying something along the lines of “Hi, I work for Google and we’re collecting data to improve the next generation of facial recognition phone unlocking.” He was then tasked with holding a phone in selfie mode in front of his face and moving it around to analyze every feature of his appearance before being offered a $5 Amazon or Starbucks gift card for his troubles. Not a Google Play discount, though, curiously. Even though it’s undoubtedly a little strange, this is about as up-front as Google gets when it comes to data collection.
This took place in New York City, but Google apparently has other teams in many different cities doing similar work. Sure enough, one of our own commenters (Frisi) detailed interaction with Google data collectors in Miami recently that also involved actions such as taking a modified Pixel 3 XL out of a pocket and looking at notifications while also capturing face data. A “future Google product” was as much of an explanation as they got, but it’s clear Google is building up to something big.
The most recent Pixel 4 leak comprised probable screen protectors showing expected cutouts for two front camera and ambient/proximity sensors, as well as a larger cutout of as yet unknown utility. Put this together with the evidence of native face authentication functionality in Android Q, as well as the Project Soli movement-mapping tech, and it doesn’t seem much of a stretch to speculate that Google is working on a secure Face-ID feature to be debuted with the upcoming fourth-generation Pixels. That would be the preferred justification for the anticipated large top-bezel on Pixel 4, at least, but we’ll have to wait and see what happens.