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M&M's candy vending machines performed facial recognition on university students - they will be dismantled

M&M's candy vending machines performed facial recognition on university students - they will be dismantled
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Canadian University of Waterloo is removing smart M&M's vending machines from its campus. Students found out that the machines were secretly performing facial recognition of students without their consent.

The scandal started when a student under the pseudonym SquidKid47 posted on Reddit a photo of an error message from a vending machine in the university town: "Invenda.Vending.FacialRecognitionApp.exe". Probably, it appeared after the machine failed to launch the face recognition program, which no one expected to be in the vending machine.

"Hey, why do the stupid M&M's machines have facial recognition?" asked SquidKid47.

Fourth-year student River Stanley decided to investigate the Reddit post, which he wrote about for the university publication MathNEWS. Stanley got concerned after reading the advertising brochures of the manufacturer, Invenda company, which promised that "machines are capable of sending approximate age and gender" of each person using the machines without requesting consent.

This disappointed Stanley, who found out that Canada's privacy commissioner years ago investigated the activities of a shopping center operator called Cadillac Fairview after discovering that some of the shopping center information kiosks secretly "used facial recognition software on visitors".

Only thanks to this official investigation, Canadians learned that "more than 5 million Canadians who did not consent" were scanned into Cadillac Fairview's database, Stanley reported. Cadillac Fairview was eventually forced to delete the entire database, but the consequences of collecting such confidential facial recognition data without the consent of other customers by Invenda's clients, such as Mars, remain unclear. Stanley urged students to demand the university to ban vending machines with facial recognition on campus.

University of Waterloo representative Rebekah Elmeng confirmed to CTV News that the institution asked to shut down the vending machines' software until the machines themselves are removed. Elmeng says the machines will be removed as soon as possible. She is unaware of the use of any similar technology on campus.

The company responsible for installing the machines, Adaria Vending Services, told MathNEWS how they work:

*It is important to understand that the machines do not take or store any photos or images, and an individual's face cannot be identified using the technology in the machines. The technology acts solely as a motion sensor which recognizes a face to know when to activate the buying interface."

According to Invenda's press release, Mars, the manufacturer of M&M's candy, was a key part of Invenda's expansion into North America. Only after completing a $7 million funding round, including deals with Mars and other major clients like Coca-Cola, Invenda was able to push for expansive global growth, significantly expanding data collection and surveillance capabilities with its smart vending machines.

But University of Waterloo students, like Stanley, now question "Invenda's commitment to transparency" in North American markets, especially since the company seems to openly violate Canadian privacy laws, Stanley told CTV News.

Source: Ars Technica

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