Student Surveillance: It Is a Thing

March 1, 2024

green-dino_thumb_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dumb dinobaby. No smart software required.

Once mobile phones were designed with cameras, all technology was equipped with one. Installing cameras and recording devices is SOP now, but facial recognition technology will soon become as common unless privacy advocates have their way. Students at the University of Waterloo were upset to learn that vending machines on their campus were programmed with the controversial technology. The Kitchener explores how the scandal started in: “ ‘Facial Recognition’ Error Message On Vending Machine Sparks Concern At University Of Waterloo.”

A series of smart vending machines decorated with M&M graphics and dispense candy were located throughout the Waterloo campus. They raised privacy concerns when a student noticed an error message about the facial recognition application on one machine. The machines were then removed from campus. Until they were removed, word spread quickly and students covered a hole believed to hold a camera.

Students believed that vending machines didn’t need to have facial recognition applications. They also wondered if there were more places on campus where they were being monitored with similar technology.

The vending machines are owned by MARS, an international candy company, and manufactured by Invenda. The MARS company didn’t respond to queries but Invenda shared more information about the facial recognition application:

“Invenda also did not respond to CTV’s requests for comment but told Stanley in an email ‘the 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.’”

Invenda also said the software is compliant with the European Union privacy General Data Protection Regulation but that doesn’t mean it is legal in Canada. The University of Waterloo has asked that the vending machines be removed from campus.

Net net: Cameras will proliferate and have smart software. Just a reminder.

Whitney Grace, March 1, 2024


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