Your Vending Machine Is Watching You

smart vending machines, smart, vending machines, smart machines, facial recognition

Students at Canada’s Waterloo University were shocked by the presence of facial recognition in their M&M-themed smart vending machines.

  • SquidKid47 shared an image of a snack vending machine displaying an error message indicating the presence of a facial recognition application.
  • Students began covering the vending machine cameras with gum or sticky notes as a form of protest against the invasion of privacy.

Students at the University of Waterloo in Canada discovered a hidden facial recognition feature in campus snack vending machines.

A student, with the Reddit username SquidKid47, posted in the subreddit r/uwaterloo an image of the vending machine in question displaying an error message, “Invenda.Vending.FacialRecognition.App.exe – Application Error.”

The discovery triggered an uproar in the student body, as this was news to everyone. One student, River Stanley, took matters into his own hands, investigating for the campus newspaper. It turns out that these machines, manufactured by Invenda and branded with M&M logos, had a “demographic sensor” that identified and then profiled individuals based on age and gender through the integrated camera.

In retaliation, students now are covering the lens with gum or sticky notes.

Before we continue, I’d like to take a moment to appreciate the comment section on that Reddit post. First, you’ve got this Redditor whose coping mechanism is self-deprecating humor. Same, buddy, same.

byu/SquidKid47 from discussion

Then there’s this dude whose money the vending machine stole once, and he’s still bitter about it.

byu/SquidKid47 from discussion

And my personal favorite, always looking at the glass half full, is this one:

byu/SquidKid47 from discussion

There are also some “Yo mama” jokes in there, if that’s your sort of thing.

Back to the disturbing, undisclosed nightmare. The university didn’t beat around the bush and demanded the removal of the smart vending machines and the immediate disabling of the surveillance feature.

The companies responsible for the smart vending machines, such as Adaria Vending Services and Invenda, are trying to save their skin by asserting compliance with data protection laws.

You see, there are two bones to pick here. First, why didn’t they disclose the facial recognition technology to the concerned parties, i.e., the students? Second, why is there facial recognition in a bloody smart vending machine to begin with?!

The company claims to be studying its market demographic. It’s a vending machine on a university’s campus for crying out loud. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the demographics of the people purchasing the overpriced snacks. Broke college students who are one exam away from a mental breakdown. Whatever happened to those “persistent” people who go around campus asking people to fill out surveys? I didn’t enjoy filling out the survey for that sanitary pad company, but hey, at least it had my consent!

I don’t know what’s more appalling: the fact that the companies snuck facial recognition technology like contraband or the fact that the university administrators probably knew about the stealth spying but probably dismissed it because money was involved.

You go to get a “higher education” just to receive a surprising amount of debt, crippling anxiety for life, and unrealistic expectations of the real world. And now you get to add to that the experience of being sold to the highest bidder.

Go to university, they said, you’ll have the time of your life, they said.

When I thought about Big Brother watching me, it never occurred to me that he’d be doing so through vending machines.

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