Today was supposed to be a “good news” day for Google.
The Internet behemoth has been plagued by ongoing allegations of infringing users’ privacy, turning a blind eye to obvious intellectual property rights violations, and alleged discrimination against conservatives.
In an apparent effort to reset the narrative and appease the right, Google’s CEO joined Ivanka Trump in Texas today to announce a pledge “to help train a quarter of a million people for technology jobs.”
Face scanning is a controversial practice in and of itself because of concerns about excessive surveillance and civil liberties infractions. But in this case, it looks like the contractor was targeting racial minorities to ensure Google had more data on non-white Americans for use in relation to a new smartphone the company is developing – a storyline that probably won’t sit well with “woke” progressives or privacy advocates like Sen. Josh Hawley:
Google contractor Randstand instructed workers to target people, including homeless people, with darker skin by offering $5 gift cards. The report, which cites several sources working on the project, says it is an effort to boost Google’s database for its Pixel 4 smartphone, which uses facial recognition biometrics.
One former employee told the Daily News that Randstad sent a team to Atlanta “specifically” to target black people there while concealing the fact that their faces would be recorded. Randstad reportedly told workers in Los Angeles to go after unsuspecting students on college campuses around the U.S. and attendees of the BET Awards festivities in Los Angeles.
Workers were instructed to lie and rush subjects through the consent agreements or “walk away” if they started to get suspicious, according to the report. One worker said they were told to recite misleading incentives such as, “Just play with the phone for a couple minutes and get a gift card,” and, “We have a new app, try it and get $5.”
The project’s consent agreement stated Google has the right to retain, use or share data without limitation and that data could be processed outside the country, in locations where subjects “may have fewer rights.”
The news comes fresh on the heels of last week’s explosive Reuters report that a key tech industry rival of Google – Oracle Inc. – has been asked by both the office of the Texas Attorney General and the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee for information about Google’s advertising business. Insiders familiar with Oracle’s own research into Google’s practices believe information provided could prove damning.
It also comes immediately after Resurgent Insider reported yesterday that Sen. Thom Tillis was planning a heavy 2020 hearings schedule for his Senate Judiciary Intellectual Property Subcommittee that could put Google, in particular, under heightened scrutiny.
That scrutiny is expected to entail a close examination of Google’s platform immunity for copyright violations by YouTube users under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). It could also entail scrutiny of Google allowing so-called “stream ripping,” in which a user downloads a file from YouTube and keeps it as if the user actually owned the content.
Google has shown some recent progress in blocking “stream ripping” but critics say it could do more. Critics continue to allege that Google has done basically nothing to keep pirated content off of YouTube, though there are rumors that the music industry and Google have been trying to work on this together and keep Congress from mucking around with legislation. That would likely be necessary to avoid bills attempting to hold Google liable for piracy under the DMCA going forward.
Google continues to appear responsive to concerns about privacy, bias, and intellectual property rights infringement only when confronted with the possibility of heavy-handed legislation or costly litigation.
Yesterday, a United Kingdom court allowed a case to proceed involving “allegations Google used tracking cookies to override iPhone users’ privacy settings in Apple’s Safari browser between 2011 and 2012.” Today, the company trumpeted several new ways to hide your personal activity and avoid its extensive data collection efforts, including “incognito” mode for Google Maps and “auto-delete” for a user’s YouTube history.
Unfortunately, those measures are unlikely to do anything about the minority homeless people and BET award attendees who were allegedly tricked into giving their data to Google via its contractor’s facial recognition shenanigans. They’re also unlikely to assuage Democrats, who Google used to be able to count as reliable friends and allies.
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