Students at the University of Waterloo discovered that they had been subjected to facial recognition technology without their consent after a vending machine malfunctioned earlier this month. 

A snack dispenser showed an error message that read: Invenda.Vending.FacialRecognition.App.exe on its screen.

Students were not asked permission to have their faces scanned, nor were they made aware of the facial recognition technology prior to using the machine, which was monitoring their movements and purchases.

“This is completely unacceptable!” former Privacy Commissioner of Ontario, Ann Cavoukian, told True North. 

“Who authorized the use of facial recognition in a vending machine, clearly without the consent of the individuals whose faces were being captured? The impact of this unauthorized access to such sensitive personal data is extensive, not only to privacy but extending to identity theft, etc.” 

Cavoukian is now the executive director of Global Privacy & Security by Design Centre.

The company that produces the machines, Invenda, claims that its “demographic detection software” is compliant with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation laws and that the company is open about its surveillance. 

Invenda claims that the technology is used to determine the age and gender of customers.

However, it remains to be confirmed whether or not the use of this technology is in line with Canadian privacy laws. 

Canadian Tire broke privacy laws in B.C. last April, after the company was found to be using facial recognition technology without notifying customers.

The province’s privacy commissioner said that the retailer failed to show sufficient reasoning for collecting facial data, even if they had asked customers permission beforehand. 

“We wouldn’t have known if it weren’t for the application error. There’s no warning here,” Waterloo student River Stanley told CTV News

Stanley was responsible for bringing the Invenda discovery to the university’s newspaper.

In response, the University of Waterloo pledged to have the Invenda machines removed “as soon as possible,” asking that the technology be disabled in the interim. 

Students took it upon themselves to cover the camera lens with gum and paper in the meantime.