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Complaints filed with privacy commissioner over facial recognition vending machines

Complaints filed with privacy commissioner over facial recognition vending machines
Complaints filed with privacy commissioner over facial recognition vending machines

Two complaints have been filed with the Office of the Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner regarding facial recognition software in smart vending machines on the University of Waterloo campus.

The machines, located in places including the Modern Languages ​​Building and Hagey Hall, sell chocolate and other sweets.

Earlier this month, a student received an error message that appeared to indicate a problem with a facial recognition app.

A vending machine at the University of Waterloo gives an error message from a facial recognition app. (Reddit)

A photo of the post was shared online and in response, students began sticking Post-its and other objects on what they thought was a camera.

River Stanley, a fourth-year student who researched the machines for the university publication mathNEWS, said her fellow students were still not satisfied.

“The next day, people were discovering these sales processes where you could see that this particular model of vending machine was equipped with demographic data detection capabilities,” she told CTV News on Feb. 22.

The machines are owned by a company called MARS. The following statement was sent to CTV News: “Mars takes the privacy of personally identifiable information very seriously and strictly complies with local, federal and global privacy regulations and therefore only works with partners who also meet the same standard. The vending machine’s technology, which uses motion sensors without collecting personally identifiable information, focuses solely on detecting presence, analyzing foot traffic patterns and transaction conversion rates.”

The manufacturer, Invenda, told Stanley that “the demographic detection software integrated into the smart vending machine operates entirely locally. It does not store, communicate or transmit any images or personally identifiable information.”

Invenda’s website states that the machine can detect the presence of a person, their approximate age and gender. It also states that the “software performs local processing of digital image maps derived from the USB optical sensor in real time, without storing such data on permanent memory media or sending them to the Cloud via the Internet.”

The Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner’s Office has not disclosed who filed the complaints.

“As we have open files on this matter, we are unable to provide additional details at this time,” a statement to CTV News said. “However, until we investigate the circumstances, we urge all public institutions using or considering using these machines to ensure they comply with FIPPA regarding the collection, use and disclosure of personal information. Ensuring compliance with privacy laws is not only a legal obligation, but also a commitment to protecting the personal information of Ontarians and ultimately maintaining their trust in public institutions.”

“The university has requested that these machines be removed from campus as soon as possible. In the meantime, we have requested that the software be disabled,” University of Waterloo spokesperson Rebecca Elming told CTV News on Feb. 22.

A similar case occurred in 2020, when cameras were found embedded in Cadillac Fairview’s digital signage kiosks that had taken more than five million photos of shoppers without their consent.

– With reporting by Colton Wiens