There is plenty of controversy going around right now surrounding facial recognition. There have been outcries over police using it to identify potential criminals despite a glaring racial and gender divide. Meanwhile, smartphone makers are trying to make their facial identification systems the best they can be.

Ahead of Google’s Pixel 4 release, it is employing an interesting strategy to train the face unlock feature for the new phone. The company sent employees out to several American cities to offer $5 to random strangers willing to have their face scanned for research.

Casting a Wide Net

A huge part of the iPhone marketing effort of late is focusing on its Face ID. To bring the pretty impressive feature to life, Apple had to analyze over a billion images. It worked with a representative group across minorities, gender, and age to ensure its system worked flawlessly for everyone.

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More or less, Google is replicating this process. The only difference is that it is going out in person to physically scan faces. Since it doesn’t want the skeptical public to hate it, Google will only perform a scan with written consent. It also offers each participant a $5 gift certificate for their time.

During each scan, Google collects an assortment of data and variables that will help train its facial identification system. To name a few, it collects infrared, color, and depth data. Meanwhile, employees record ambient light level, the time, and various “task” data.

Thankfully, Google is trying its best to keep the scans anonymous. A spokesperson said, “Although face samples inherently can’t be anonymous, each participant is assigned an abstract identity number. We separately keep each participant’s email address, in order to remove data upon request.”

While Google keeps data for 18 months, participants can specifically request to delete their data sooner.

In the Dark

Interestingly, the data Google is collecting also gives away part of how the facial recognition system will work. Considering that infrared is present, the feature should work in low-light conditions and even in the dark.

Meanwhile, it appears the system will create a full depth, 3D map of a user’s face. Having a full depth scan helps ensure pictures and masks can’t fool the system.

User scans will then be stored on the Pixel 4’s secure Titan M chip. All personal facial recognition data (outside of the research being conducted) won’t be uploaded to Google servers.

Of course, this is very similar to how Apple’s Face ID works. So long as the Pixel 4 version works well it should serve as a nice alternative for Android users. For anyone that sees a Google employee dangling $5 on the sidewalk, it would be pretty cool to participate in making this feature a reality.

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