Canadian university vending machine error reveals use of facial recognition

A malfunctioning vending machine at a Canadian university has inadvertently revealed that a number of them have been using facial recognition technology in secret.

Earlier this month, a snack dispenser at the University of Waterloo showed an error message – Invenda.Vending.FacialRecognition.App.exe – on the screen.

There was no prior indication that the machine was using the technology, nor that a camera was monitoring student movement and purchases. Users were not asked for permission for their faces to be scanned or analysed.

“We wouldn’t have known if it weren’t for the application error. There’s no warning here,” River Stanley, who reported on the discovery for the university’s newspaper, told CTV News.

Students at the University of Waterloo in Canada believe there is a camera inside this hole on the vending machine. Photograph: Colton Wiens/CTV Kitchener

Invenda, the company that produces the machines, advertises its use of “demographic detection software”, which it says can determine gender and age of customers. It claims the technology is compliant with GDPR, the European Union’s privacy standards, but it is unclear whether it meets Canadian equivalents.

In April, the national retailer Canadian Tire ran afoul of privacy laws in British Columbia after it used facial recognition technology without notifying customers. The government’s privacy commissioner said that even if the stores had obtained permission, the company failed to show a reasonable purpose for collecting facial information.

The University of Waterloo pledged in a statement to remove the Invenda machines “as soon as possible”, and that in the interim, it had “asked that the software be disabled”.

In the meantime, students at the Ontario university responded by covering the hole that they believe houses the camera with gum and paper.

… there is a good reason why people choose not to support the Guardian. Not everyone can afford to pay for the news right now. That’s why we choose to keep our journalism open for everyone to read. If this is you, please continue to read for free.

But if you can, then here are three good reasons to make the choice to support us today.

1. Our quality, investigative journalism is a scrutinising force at a time when the rich and powerful are getting away with more and more.

2. We are independent and have no billionaire owner controlling what we do, so your money directly powers our reporting.

3. It doesn’t cost much, and takes less time than it took to read this message.

Choose to power the Guardian’s journalism for years to come, whether with a small sum or a larger one. The average monthly support in India is around $4, but however much you give, all that matters is you’re choosing to support open, independent journalism.

Leave a Comment