Canadian vending machines were secretly using facial recognition software … nobody would have known except for a display error.
· Feb 29, 2024 ·

A vending machine at the University of Waterloo malfunctioned and displayed a rather worrisome error to the users.


No one was aware that the vending machines, which sold snacks like chocolate bars and chips, were using facial recognition software.

'We wouldn't have known if it weren't for the application error. There's no warning here,' said River Stanley, a fourth-year student, who investigated the machines for an article in the university publication, mathNEWS.

As news of the facial recognition software error spread around campus, students started covering a small hole on the machines where it was suspected that the camera was housed. Stanley said.

What students have been doing over the past two weeks is coming up with sticky tack, with chewing gum, with post it notes, doing anything to cover these sensors.

Invenda, the company that produces the machines, said,

'[T]he demographic detection software integrated into the smart vending machine operates entirely locally.'

'It does not engage in storage, communication, or transmission of any imagery or personally identifiable information,' it continued.

According to Invenda's website, the Smart Vending Machines can detect the presence of a person, their estimated age and gender. The website said the 'software conducts local processing of digital image maps derived from the USB optical sensor in real-time, without storing such data on permanent memory mediums or transmitting it over the Internet to the Cloud.'

And if that's true, one has to ask:


What's the point of identifying any of that information about a consumer if it's not going to be used in some sort of consumer trends analysis? Why would anyone spend that much on facial-identification software just to toss the temporary data?

Something seems fishy here, and it's not the fish crackers in D7.

Even if the data is temporary, recording people without permission violates Canada's privacy laws.

Waterloo has reacted accordingly.

'The university has asked that these machines be removed from campus as soon as possible. In the meantime, we've asked that the software be disabled,' University of Waterloo spokesperson Rebecca Elming said.

The students have said that if the university does not follow through and remove the machines, they will file complaints to the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario.

It's a brave new world out there, folks.

You've got to be constantly vigilant.

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