Facial Recognition Concerns Prompt Removal of Vending Machines at Canadian University

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Amid escalating privacy concerns, vending machines equipped with facial recognition technology are set to be swiftly removed from the University of Waterloo in Canada. The revelation surfaced after vigilant students discovered the covert utilization of facial recognition within the vending machines, as reported by CTV News on Friday.

Discovery spurs action

Students at the University of Waterloo near Toronto were taken aback when one of the candy vending machines exhibited an unexpected message signaling an “application error” associated with facial recognition.

River Stanley, a diligent student who investigated the matter for a university publication, expressed astonishment, stating, “We wouldn’t have known if it weren’t for the application error. There’s no warning here,” in an interview with CTV.

In response to the alarming revelation, the University of Waterloo swiftly announced plans to remove the vending machines from its premises “as soon as possible.” Meanwhile, ingenious students resorted to covering the sensors on the machines with gum as a temporary measure.

Manufacturer denies wrongdoing

Invenda, the manufacturer of the vending machines, vehemently denied any wrongdoing, asserting that it neither stored nor transmitted any personal information.

Despite acknowledging the use of “demographic detection software” within the machines, Invenda maintained that all operations were conducted locally, without any data being stored, communicated, or transmitted. 

The company assured compliance with the European Union’s privacy law, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Technological capabilities unveiled

According to CTV, Invenda’s website outlined the Smart Vending Machines‘ capabilities, including detecting individuals’ presence and estimating their age and gender. The website elucidated that the software executed local processing of digital image maps derived from USB optical sensors in real-time, without retaining such data on permanent memory mediums or transmitting it over the Internet to the Cloud.

The incident at the University of Waterloo underscores broader apprehensions surrounding the proliferation of facial recognition technology globally. While such technology has been instrumental in various domains, including law enforcement and smartphone security, its ubiquitous deployment raises significant privacy concerns. Activists warn of a potential dystopian scenario wherein individual privacy is compromised, invoking imagery reminiscent of Orwellian surveillance.

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