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  12. <title>Atlanta Asks Google Whether It Targeted Black Homeless People (archive) — David Larlet</title>
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  58. <h1>Atlanta Asks Google Whether It Targeted Black Homeless People</h1>
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  68. <p class="css-exrw3m evys1bk0">Atlanta officials are seeking answers from Google after a news report said that company contractors had sought out black homeless people in the city to scan their faces to improve Google’s facial-recognition technology.</p>
  69. <p class="css-exrw3m evys1bk0">The New York Daily News <a class="css-1g7m0tk" href="https://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/ny-google-darker-skin-tones-facial-recognition-pixel-20191002-5vxpgowknffnvbmy5eg7epsf34-story.html" title="" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">reported on Wednesday</a> that a staffing agency hired by Google had sent its contractors to numerous American cities to target black people for facial scans. One unnamed former worker told the newspaper that in Atlanta, the effort included finding those who were homeless because they were less likely to speak to the media.</p>
  70. <p class="css-exrw3m evys1bk0">On Friday, Nina Hickson, Atlanta’s city attorney, sent a letter to Google asking for an explanation.</p>
  71. <p class="css-exrw3m evys1bk0">“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 said in a letter to Kent Walker, Google’s legal and policy chief. “If some or all of the reporting was accurate, we would welcome your response as what corrective action has been and will be taken.”</p>
  72. <p class="css-exrw3m evys1bk0">Google said it had hired contractors to scan the faces of volunteers to improve software that would enable users to unlock Google’s new phone simply by looking at it. The company immediately suspended the research and began investigating after learning of the details in The Daily News article, a Google spokesman said.</p>
  73. <p class="css-exrw3m evys1bk0">“We’re taking these claims seriously,” he said in a statement.</p>
  74. <p class="css-exrw3m evys1bk0">The dust-up is the latest scrutiny of tech companies’ development of facial-recognition technology. Critics say that such technology can be <a class="css-1g7m0tk" href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/14/technology/china-surveillance-artificial-intelligence-racial-profiling.html" title="">abused by governments</a> or bad actors and that it has already shown <a class="css-1g7m0tk" href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/26/technology/amazon-aclu-facial-recognition-congress.html" title="">signs of bias</a>. Some facial-recognition software has <a class="css-1g7m0tk" href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/09/technology/facial-recognition-race-artificial-intelligence.html" title="">struggled with dark-skinned people</a>.</p>
  75. <p class="css-exrw3m evys1bk0">But even companies’ efforts to improve the software and prevent such bias are proving controversial, as it requires <a class="css-1g7m0tk" href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/13/technology/databases-faces-facial-recognition-technology.html" title="">the large-scale collection</a> of scans and images of real people’s faces.</p>
  76. <p class="css-exrw3m evys1bk0">Google said it hired contractors from a staffing agency named Randstad for the research. Google wanted the contractors to collect a diverse sample of faces to ensure that its software would work for people of all skin tones, two Google executives said in an email to colleagues on Thursday. A company spokesman provided the email to The New York Times.</p>
  77. <p class="css-exrw3m evys1bk0">“Our goal in this case has been to ensure we have a fair and secure feature that works across different skin tones and face shapes,” the Google executives said in the email.</p>
  78. <p class="css-exrw3m evys1bk0">The unnamed person who told The Daily News that Randstad sent the contractors to Atlanta to focus on black homeless people also told the newspaper that a Google manager was not present when that order was made. A second unnamed contractor told The Daily News that employees were instructed to locate homeless people and university students in California because they would probably be attracted to the $5 gift cards volunteers received in exchange for their facial scans.</p>
  79. <p class="css-exrw3m evys1bk0">Randstad manages a work force of more than 100,000 contractors in the United States and Canada each week. The company, which is based in the Netherlands and has operations in 38 countries, did not respond to requests for comment. Google relies heavily on contract and temporary workers; they now <a class="css-1g7m0tk" href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/28/technology/google-temp-workers.html" title="">outnumber its full-time employees</a>.</p>
  80. <p class="css-exrw3m evys1bk0">Several unnamed people who worked on the facial recognition project told The Daily News that Randstad managers urged the contractors to mislead participants in the study, including by rushing them through consent forms and telling them that the phone scanning their faces was not recording.</p>
  81. <p class="css-exrw3m evys1bk0">The Google executives did not confirm those details in their email. They said that the tactics described in the article were “very disturbing.” Google instructed its contractors to be “truthful and transparent” with volunteers in the study by obtaining their consent and ensuring they knew why Google was collecting the data, the executives said in the email.</p>
  82. <p class="css-exrw3m evys1bk0">“Transparency is obviously important, and it is absolutely not okay to be misleading with participants,” they said.</p>
  83. <p class="css-exrw3m evys1bk0">A Google spokesman said that the volunteers’ facial scans were encrypted and only used for the research, and deleted once the research is completed.</p>
  84. <p class="css-exrw3m evys1bk0">In 2017, <a class="css-1g7m0tk" href="https://gizmodo.com/how-apple-says-it-prevented-face-id-from-being-racist-1819557448" title="" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">an Apple executive told Congress</a> that the company developed its facial-recognition software using more than a billion images, including facial scans collected in its own research studies.</p>
  85. <p class="css-exrw3m evys1bk0">“We worked with participants from around the world to include a representative group of people accounting for gender, age, ethnicity and other factors,” the executive said.</p>
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