How Much is Your Face Worth? Google Says £4

By Alyse Stanley on at

How do you train a facial recognition AI reportedly sophisticated enough to rival Apple’s Face ID technology? Simple: You offer strangers $5 if they lend you their faces.

At least that’s how Google employees went about collecting face scans, according to stories from Android Police and ZDNet that Google confirmed with the Verge today. In various cities across the country, they’ve been reportedly doling out $5 Starbucks and Amazon gift cards (equal to about £4) to people on the street in exchange for the totally not creepy request of a few selfies. This “field research,” as the company referred to it, was an effort to gather additional face-scanning data to ultimately improve the accuracy of its upcoming Pixel 4's facial recognition technology. With each scan, Google said it was gathering infrared, colour, and depth data, which gives us a little look under the hood of how its tech may ultimately work.

In particular, a Google spokesperson told the Verge the company was trying to increase the diversity of faces the Pixel 4 could recognise. That’s an understandable precaution given all the flack facial recognition technology has been getting for gender and racial bias (not to point the finger at any one company in particular, unless that company is Amazon).

“Our goal is to build the feature with robust security and performance,” a Google spokesperson told the Verge. “We’re also building it with inclusiveness in mind, so as many people as possible can benefit.”

The company released footage of its flagship smartphone today, confirming rumours that the mysterious bezel cutouts we saw in official images last month will be for Project Soli. Now under the new moniker Motion Sense, Project Soli is a series of radar-based sensors the company’s been working on for years that detects and tracks the movement of nearby objects. This lets users unlock the phone hands-free and use gestures to perform certain operations. In the video, we see a young girl flip through music tracks with a swipe of her hand.

Given that Google claims its technology is secure enough that you’ll be able to authenticate payments and log in to apps with just your face on the Pixel 4, it’s no wonder they went the extra mile to get it right. And as a note: the company stated that these scans don’t leave the device, and users’ faces won’t be stored on the cloud or shared with other Google services.

Google told the Verge it plans to keep the face scans it collected through its research for 18 months, even though consent forms they handed out stated a limit of 5 years. These scans were also given an abstract identity number separate from the email address each person provided, as well as being “encrypted and access restricted,” so they won’t link back to any Google ID the person may have.

To combat bias in its own AI, Apple purportedly used over a billion images to develop its facial matching neural networks. Less creepy? Definitely. More effective? I guess we’ll see when the Pixel 4 debuts, supposedly at Google’s annual product showcase this fall.