In a recent initiative, Google and TELUS International, a subsidiary of the Canadian tech conglomerate TELUS, have collaborated to collect biometric data from children for age verification purposes. This project, running from November 2023 to January 2024, involved parents filming their children’s faces, capturing details such as eyelid shape, skin tone, and facial geometry. Parents who participated were paid $50 per child.
First reported by 404media, the project requested that parents take 11 short videos of their children while wearing things like face masks or hats. Another request was for children’s faces with no coverings at all. Each video must be less than 40 seconds, and participants were expected to spend 30 to 45 minutes on the task.
According to the summary document, which has now been taken down, a TELUS International moderator would be on a call while the parent took these videos of the child.
According to TELUS International, the purpose of this project was to capture a diverse range of biometric data to ensure that their customer’s services and products are representative of various demographics. Google told 404media that the goal was to enhance authentication methods, thus providing more secure tools for users.
“As part of our commitment to delivering age-appropriate experiences and to comply with laws and regulations around the world, we’re exploring ways to help our users verify their age. Last year, TELUS helped us find volunteers for a project exploring whether this could be done via selfies. From there, Google collected videos and images of faces, clearly explaining how the content would be used, and, as with all research involving minors, we required parental consent for participants under the age of 18. We’ve also put strict privacy protections in place, including limiting the amount of time the data will be retained and providing all participants the option to delete their data at any time,” Google told 404media in a statement.
While this aligns with Google’s broader commitment to developing responsible and ethical facial recognition technology, the project has raised significant concerns regarding children’s privacy and consent.
Parents had to consent to Google and TELUS International collecting their child’s personal and biometric information in order to participate. This included the shape of their eyelids, the color of their skin and their “facial geometry.” According to the TELUS International summary, Google would then keep the data for five years at most, which for some participants, would be into their early adulthood.
The involvement of minors, specifically aged between 13 and 17 years, in such data collection raises ethical questions, particularly as the children themselves cannot provide consent.
This initiative marks an interesting shift in data collection methods, moving away from traditional approaches like scraping existing internet images. Instead, Google is engaging the public directly in its data-gathering process and compensating them for their contributions. However, the involvement of children in such projects, especially in the context of recent findings of child pornography in AI training datasets, has led to heightened scrutiny and concern over the ethical implications of such data collection practices.