Less than two weeks ahead of the Pixel 4 flagship smartphone’s debut, Google is reportedly pulling the plug on a controversial “field research” program that offered subjects in US cities a $5 gift certificate in exchange for a scan of their face — after a New York Daily News report that one Google contracting agency was actively targeting homeless people in Atlanta and tricking unwitting college students into participating.
Originally, the company told us, the idea was to make sure the Pixel 4’s new Face Unlock feature would recognize a diverse array of faces, which could keep it from being biased against people of color — a legitimate concern for facial recognition tech.
According to The New York Times, Google claims it immediately suspended the program and opened an investigation after reading the Daily News’ story. It wouldn’t discuss details with the Times, but did say it’s true it hired contractors from Randstad for the research, the same contractor named in the Daily News’ expose, and Google reportedly called the alleged details “very disturbing.”
Notably, Google is coming forward after Atlanta city attorney Nina Hickson sent a very strongly-worded email to the company about its homeless being targeted: “The possibility that members of our most vulnerable populations are being exploited to advance your company’s commercial interest is profoundly alarming for numerous reasons,” she wrote, the Times reports.
Google didn’t respond to a request for comment for our earlier story, and it hasn’t yet responded to our request for comment today either.