Could vending machines be scanning your face?

Nowadays, you can’t even grab a sneaky little midday Mars bar without being silently judged by a dang machine.  

What happened: Students at the University of Waterloo are revolting against Mars-owned campus vending machines after discovering the machines were scanning users’ faces without their knowledge. 

  • The revelation came after a student posted an image of a machine flashing an error message, saying it failed to launch a facial recognition application.
  • Invenda, the maker of the vending machine, actually advertises its “demographic detection software,” which can reportedly determine the age and gender of shoppers.

Why it matters: Not to be all “Big Brother is watching,” but there’s a decent chance your face is being scanned whenever you’re in public as the use of facial recognition tech has surged

  • Retailers are using it to try and catch thieves as shoplifting rises, while the overtaxed travel industry wants to boost efficiency by adding face scans to crucial checkpoints. 
  • Critics are concerned the tech has led to rampant privacy violations, as businesses collect reams of personal data, often without consent or proper precautions.

Big picture: Last year, Canadian Tire got in hot water after B.C.’s privacy watchdog found that four stores in the province illegally used facial recognition tech to collect shoppers' data. 

  • In 2020, shopping centre operator Cadillac Fairview was found to have violated privacy laws by using facial recognition software on ~5 million shoppers.

What’s next: Canada’s privacy laws don’t currently have the teeth to punish offenders and deter illegal behaviour. A proposed update aims to change that by introducing a regime to dole out financial penalties, but some critics feel the new laws still won’t go far enough.—QH