How Much is Your Face Worth? $5.

31 - July 2019

Can you put a price tag on your face? Google can – and it’s only $5.

It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke: “How much is your face worth?”

And perhaps, from a privacy perspective, it kind of is a bad joke. But the story is true. Last week, ZDNet reported that Google has started buying people’s faces for $5. Across the US, Google employees are walking up to strangers and offering $5 Amazon or Starbucks gift certificates to people willing to “contribute” their facial data to Google, to help the company “develop their next generation facial recognition phone unlocking”.

The people that accept Google’s “generous” offer are confronted with a mysterious phone in a large dark case – which is apparently concealing a new generation of Pixel, Google’s proprietary smartphone. They’re asked to take a selfie, provide personal information, and – of course – sign a long waiver. Thus far, no one has captured and shared the exact language of this waiver…yet it’s reasonable to assume that it’s less than privacy friendly.

Why Is this Happening?

The short answer is: no one is sure.

The official reason is mentioned above. Yet once a subject provides consent and signs a waiver, there’s really no telling where this data will end up. 

What’s ironic is that Google is offering to pay us $5 to give up our privacy in the same week that Facebook has been ordered to pay $5 billion for violating our privacy. Google and Facebook aren’t alone in this, or course. Many companies, online and offline, make a habit of either receiving user consent through long, fine-printed user privacy policies or simply ignoring user privacy altogether.

Just this week, financial services giant Capital One announced that the personal data of some 106 million people in the US and Canada had been compromised by a lone hacker. The Marriot chain of hotels was recently fined almost £100m after hackers broke into servers and stole personal data of 339 million guests. And this came just weeks after British Airways was fined over £183m after hackers stole the personal data of half a million of the airline’s customers.

And even governments are not always careful about how they treat our personal data. The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reportedly scanned driver’s license databases with facial recognition software, and analyzed the faces of millions of motorists without their consent or even knowledge.

The takeaway is that, at a time when consumer-facing companies are being slapped with massive fines for violating privacy, consumers think twice before giving theirs away for a pittance. Even if it’s not personally important to you – your privacy is important enough to some companies to go to great lengths to compromise it. Don’t let them get away with it!

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