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M&M machines spy on students' faces

by on26 February 2024

University rushes to remove them

Canada-based University of Waterloo is hurrying to remove M&M-branded smart vending machines from campus after furious students discovered the machines secretly collect facial-recognition data without their permission.

The scandal kicked off when a student using the alias SquidKid47 posted a picture on Reddit showing a campus vending machine error message, "Invenda.Vending.FacialRecognitionApp.exe", displayed after the machine failed to launch a facial recognition application that nobody expected to be part of the process of using a vending machine.

"Hey, so why do the stupid M&M machines have facial recognition?" SquidKid47 wondered. The Reddit post sparked an investigation from a fourth-year student named River Stanley, who was writing for a university publication called MathNEWS.

MathNEWS' investigation tracked down responses from companies in charge of smart vending machines on the University of Waterloo's campus.

Adaria Vending Services told MathNEWS that the machines do not take or store any photos or images, and a person cannot be identified using the technology in the machines.

“The technology acts as a motion sensor that detects faces, so the machine knows when to activate the purchasing interface -- never taking or storing images of customers."

According to Adaria and Invenda, students shouldn't worry about data privacy because the vending machines are "fully compliant" with the world's toughest data privacy law, the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

"These machines are fully GDPR compliant and are in use in many facilities across North America," Adaria said. "

At the University of Waterloo, Adaria manages last mile fulfilment services -- we handle restocking and logistics for the snack vending machines. Adaria does not collect any data about its users and has no access to identify users of these M&M vending machines.

However, University of Waterloo students like Stanley now question Invenda's "commitment to transparency" in North American markets, especially since the company seemingly openly breaks Canadian privacy law, Stanley told CTV News.

On Reddit, while some students joked that SquidKid47's face "crashed" the machine, others asked if "any pre-law students wanna start up a class-action lawsuit?"

Last modified on 26 February 2024
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