back to article Plot twist: Google's not spying on King's Cross with facial recognition tech, but its landlord is

Britons working for Google at its London HQ are being secretly spied on by creepy facial recognition cameras – but these ones aren't operated by the ad-tech company. Instead it's the private landlord for most of the King's Cross area doing the snooping, according to today's Financial Times. "The 67-acre King's Cross area, …

  1. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Unhappy

    Equality

    I suppose I'd better learn how to do makeup. Never even thought of it up till now - us older guys don't tend to.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Equality

      David Bowie had it down to a fine art in the 1970's.....

    2. Nick Kew Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: Bring in the Clowns?

      Us older guys don't really do disguise. Unless we've led a life of it: for example, the Thespian.

      What could make us change our appearance? Introducing clownr[tm], the site to match up with the kind of partner who makes you change your appearance :)

    3. Gonzo wizard
      Big Brother

      Re: Makeup

      Cotton wool in your cheeks and some large dark glasses should obscure/distort enough to fuzz you out without worrying about if your eyeliner is straight or your mascara smudged...

  2. revenant Silver badge

    "... sophisticated systems in place to protect the privacy of the general public."

    They don't need anything more sophisticated than an off-switch.

    1. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

      Re: "... sophisticated systems in place to protect the privacy of the general public."

      Failing that, happy to help out with a pair of side cutters.

      It would be interesting to get an official opinion from the ICO in this, and they can't form that until they have investigated in full WTF is going on with the data that is gathered there. In short, it stinks.

      If we constrain police operated cameras already (or try to, let's be honest), a private operator should be so tied up in red tape they should not even dare to think about misusing that information but at present they could be reselling it to all and sundry - nobody would know.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Memo to Self

    Wear Donald Trump facemask when walking through the KingsX development. I'm sure that Google won't be far behind with getting access to the Facial recognition feeds.

    These people need to understand that we, the people do not want this type of spying when we go about out daily lives..

    1. gypsythief

      Re: Memo to Self

      "These people need to understand that we, the people do not want this type of spying..."

      Except that we are not "we, the people." We are a very small, technologically aware, privacy conscious subset of the people.

      The people generally don't seem to give a toss. I've explained it on occasion to mainstream members of the people, and they have listened carefully, nodded in agreement, and made appropriate comments like "that's awful", or "how very dare they!"

      They have then promptly gone back to not giving a toss, so long as they can access Farcebook, Instaspam et al. Whilst commentards here, the great folks at Privacy International, and a few others may protest facial recognition, nothing much will change whilst the rest of the population are drip-fed their dopamine.

      1. K Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: Memo to Self

        You nailed it!

        My wife's take: If you've done nothing wrong, you've nothing to hide.

        My Take: Exactly who are they selling the data too, and it must be very profitable in order for them to install expensive tech, and risk the wrath of privacy advocates

        1. AIBailey Silver badge

          Re: Memo to Self

          To quote Edward Snowden:

          Saying that you don't care about the right of privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don't care about freedom of speech because you have nothing to say.

        2. Funky Buddah

          Re: Memo to Self

          And when the minimum age data in putter has got a hang over, or can't be arsed to do their job properly and gets your details mixed up with Jack the Ripper then I think you may have something to worry about.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Memo to Self

          "My wife's take: If you've done nothing wrong, you've nothing to hide"

          Until you happen to be 'fingered' as a suspect and then have to explain your way out of a situation that you've never been involved in... "but we have a match"

    2. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

      Re: Memo to Self

      I'm sure that Google won't be far behind with getting access to the Facial recognition feeds.

      I think you can be pretty certain there's already a Cat 7 running from that rack to one that says "Google", there's a strong smell of nudge nudge, wink wink culture in all of this. It may even be why they went there in the first place - yummie live feeds to experiment with..

  4. Fonant
    Big Brother

    Masks and perhaps also hats or wigs seem sensible attire these days :(

    1. BebopWeBop Silver badge
      Coat

      I have seen some interesting work that demonstrated useful recognition based on physical profile and more particularly (walking) gait.

      Mines the one with spare orthopaedic shoe inserts in the pocket.

      1. Gonzo wizard

        Orthopaedic shoe inserts

        Gravel works just as well. Anything that temporarily distorts the gait, which is far from unique in large populations.

    2. Antonius_Prime

      Central London is quite polluted, isn't it? Maybe get some of those filtered facemasks the Chinese & Japanese seem fond of?

      And perhaps affect a limp in King's Cross...

  5. dogcatcher

    Maybe the place is still the knocking shop it always used to be and the landlords are just recording porno movies

    1. Tom Paine Silver badge
      Go

      nope

      All cleaned up over the last 15 years during the regeneration. You rarely see junkies and crackwhores, or needles in the gutters, these days. They've all moved up the road to Islington / Camden.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "... we have sophisticated systems in place to protect the privacy of the general public."

    I'm generally of the opinion that - especially in contexts such as this - such vague and insubstantial assurances should just be treated as if they were lies.

    1. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

      Re: "... we have sophisticated systems in place to protect the privacy of the general public."

      @AC: "vague and insubstantial assurances should just be treated as if they were lies."

      Complete oxymoron isn't it? A 3rd partyiinvolving themselves in securing our privacy, when we didn't allow them in, in the first place.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    cameras... protect the privacy of the general public

    they say that with a straight face and nobody dares point out the absurdity of the statement.

  8. SVV Silver badge

    Poor Google employees!

    Imagine being spied on every day by a large unnaccountable company, just because you implicitly agreed to their terms and conditions when you accessed their terrain!

    1. T. F. M. Reader Silver badge

      Re: Poor Google employees!

      ... because you implicitly agreed ...

      ... because someone you may or may not know implicitly agreed ...

      FTFY

    2. PB90210

      Re: Poor Google employees!

      "Imagine being spied on every day by a large unnaccountable company, just because you implicitly agreed to their terms and conditions when you accessed their terrain!"

      Like entering a tube station and your Wi-Fi presence being tracked by TfL

      "But you just need to turn off Wi-Fi to 'opt-out'"

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    use of facial recognition technology in the UK is largely believed to be illegal

    clearly, the police "believe" otherwise

    1. spold Bronze badge

      Re: use of facial recognition technology in the UK is largely believed to be illegal

      ...the jury (or rather the ICO) is still out on this one..

      https://ico.org.uk/about-the-ico/news-and-events/news-and-blogs/2019/07/blog-live-facial-recognition-technology-data-protection-law-applies/

      ...findings to follow.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: use of facial recognition technology in the UK is largely believed to be illegal

        well, tell the policeman confronting you, that "the jury is still out on this one", and see what happens :(

    2. katrinab Silver badge

      Re: use of facial recognition technology in the UK is largely believed to be illegal

      Even if it is legal for the police, doesn't mean it is legal for anyone else. They do have more powers.

    3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: use of facial recognition technology in the UK is largely believed to be illegal

      I suspect this is exactly why they are so keen to get it deployed in "trials" as often and widespread as possible. They want to normalise it as quickly as possible so as to influence any future laws controlling it.

      It needs someone or a group with the money to challenge this using GDPR.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    a spokesperson for King's Cross instead decided to emit this quote

    "I fart in your general direction", basically.

  11. Arthur the cat Silver badge

    For what it's worth …

    The ICO page on your rights over your personal data.

    I feel a request or two coming on, anybody know how to contact these snoopers?

    1. Gordon 10 Silver badge

      Re: For what it's worth …

      Indeed would be tempting to take a wander around there. Then bung them a SAR request with the date and time you were there.

      And then a data transfer request for your biometric profile hehehe.

    2. hakuli
      Thumb Up

      Re: For what it's worth …

      Only kind of related, but I did enjoy the fact that the cookie consent banner for the ICO was correctly "opt-in" for analytics.

      (Part of me honestly expected it to be wrong...)

    3. Tom Paine Silver badge

      Re: For what it's worth …

      Here's their website. https://www.kingscross.co.uk/whos-developing-kings-cross

      Hey, what a surprise -- they've ballsed up GDPR cookie consents, too!

      And I don't even like popcorn...

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I again get to ask the question, if it doesn't work (as the police keep telling us) why are people spending money to put it in place?

    For what it's worth I believe it works just fine with an accuracy rate above 90% but no one wants to admit that just yet so they can get them in place for that all important public *shrug* of it's already in place what does it matter.

    1. Martin an gof Silver badge

      I believe it works just fine

      Thing is, I have a car with "road sign recognition" via a windscreen-mounted camera and GPS, a task that should be a couple of orders of magnitude easier than facial recognition, particularly from CCTV type images, and yet the car gets it wrong time and time again.

      They are talking about making speed limiters based on this technology mandatory in the next few years and I am dreading the day I tootle down the bypass at a perfectly legal 40mph only to have the limiter kick in at 20mph because it's picked up a roadsign on an adjacent road. This kind of mis-recognition happens all the time, but in the current car it is not connected directly to the limiter and merely flashes up an annoying warning.

      If they can't get something as simple as road sign recognition right, I have no confidence at all that facial recognition is anything other than an interesting research topic at the moment. Shame, as I would rather like to have faces in my vast collection of family photographs categorised automatically...

      M.

      1. hammarbtyp Silver badge

        They are talking about making speed limiters based on this technology mandatory in the next few years and I am dreading the day I tootle down the bypass at a perfectly legal 40mph only to have the limiter kick in at 20mph because it's picked up a roadsign on an adjacent road. This kind of mis-recognition happens all the time, but in the current car it is not connected directly to the limiter and merely flashes up an annoying warning.

        My new 70 m.p.h road sign stick on camera stickers buisness will be up and running by then

      2. $till$kint

        Similar issue in my car, made worse when you turn on the adaptive speed limiter that *does* reduce your speed to match the limit as you pass a sign.

        Unfortunately it chose to read a 50 marker on the back of a lorry on the motorway, causing the car to brake unexpectedly from the 70 I had been doing.

        It also dislikes large, light coloured vehicles parked on the near-side on gentle right hand bends, although only on bright, sunny days.

        In these situations it likes slamming the brakes on to avoid the collision that wasn't going to happen.

        First "feature" now turned off. It still gets stuff wrong, but just flashes annoyingly rather than attempting to insert my tailgate into the bonnet of the following vehicle. Second feature dialed back to least sensitive, notionally reducing the protection offered as the car will brake later and harder if I miss something going on in front of me, but actually increasing my safety by not activating erroneously.

        Autonomous vehicles may be coming, but they're a way off yet.

        1. Martin an gof Silver badge

          Just out of interest, what sort of car is it? Mine's a relatively low-spec Citroën. The speed limit recognition system can only be temporarily defeated by delving three levels deep in the menus of the ridiculous centre-console touch screen. Next time you start the engine, it's back on. The lane departure system is slightly better in that there's a button dedicated to turning it off but it, too, switches back on next time.

          I've not had the proximity warning system apply the brakes yet, but it does flash up annoying warnings or beeps or both (seems completely inconsistent) at slightly odd times. If it took account of relative speed it'd be better - it goes off most often when some eejit on the motorway overtakes then pulls in too close, but as they're usually doing maybe 10mph more than I am, they're not too close for too long.

          I've already asked "someone who should know" about flipping some ECU bits to disable the functions permanently...

          M.

          1. Jan 0

            What happens if you place a translucent mask over the camera's window?

          2. $till$kint

            Hi Martin.

            Current model Volvo XC60. I'm told it's in part down to Volvo sticking with a single camera system, when the next generation of kit is using 2 or more. See also 737 Max

    2. Adrian 4 Silver badge

      I think they see it as a way to flag possible suspects for manual checking. At present they don't have a hope of watching all the cameras in any way at all other than by manually looking through recordings after an event. They hope that if it shows up a suspect at all over hundreds of otherwise unwatchable cameras, that will be an 'improvement', and the accuracy will only improve.

    3. Gordon 10 Silver badge

      You are confused

      It doesn't work but the cops are too fascinated with their new shiny-shiny to care.

      Also it's helpfully biased towards the same certain segments of the population they are, so helps them play "stop and search snooker".

      Let's not forget the average plod barely knows the laws they have to enforce on a daily basis* let alone data privacy ones.

      *Like the poor sod they arrested for walking past the camera vans in Wales with his face covered, which is not actually illegal.

    4. 's water music Silver badge
      Windows

      It works just fine

      It works well enough to deliver a benefit the interests investing in it and the costs of its failure are imposed on people that don't matter.

      As a commercial landlord, if you correctly tag 50% of troublemakers and dispatch a mall cop to kick them off your premises that's a win for you. If you also incorrectly tag the same number of people the mall cop can simply pull his punch if the subject looks obviously affluent/white/middle class and for the others, nobody cares unless society provides an accessible mechanism for them to obtain redress which won't happen often enough for the landlord to be incentivised to change their approach.

      Sucks to be him------>

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: It works just fine

        ...until a rich black footballer (other rich black people are available) gets stopped and searched for looking at the expensive products in a jewellery shop window because "well he's black, he must be casing the joint"

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Will soon be obsolete...

    Because all twenty-somethings look identical.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    hmmm

    A pocket-sized drone with a 1W gimbal-mounted laser and facial-recognition-camera-recognition feels like a good thing to invent.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Maybe

    Maybe the Islamists have got it part way right after all. Burkahs all round, and not just for the ladies

  16. Aging Hippy

    Where's the face data from?

    So they install face recognition technology but what do they compare the faces against? Will Mr Plod give them a pictures of known baddies? Will they harvest profile pictures from Face-de-bouc?

    What are they going to do when a face matches? Declare an orange alert and send in Rover?

    1. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

      Re: Where's the face data from?

      @Aging Hippie: "what do they compare the faces against"

      If only there were a large, publicly available source of names,... like a large book,.... of faces,.....

      If only there were a near instant way of finding photos of people,.... if only you could get an image, and snap! find a match,..... if only there was a way to link one image in to another,.....

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Where's the face data from?

      They could link to Tindr/Grindr/Ashley Madison/e-Harmony... oh no, they've clean up King's X

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why King's Cross

    I suggest putting the spy cams around the Parliamentary Estate and have a 'track your MP' app available for download.

  18. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    Out of curiosity...

    ...how much of the public roadways and footpaths in this 67 acre site have been sold to the developers?

    I'm assuming they have been sold, since I suspect placing cameras in private areas come under different, probably less strict rules and laws than those capturing images of people in public areas.

  19. getHandle

    You think that's bad...

    You should see the MFlow "human recognition" cameras at Gatwick! Complete with evil-KITT style circling light!

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Face recog in Britain?

    I am USAian, but of British ancestry, and a friend who went to England before I did came back to say, "there are about twelve faces in England, and you have one of them." Yep, walking around London felt like a family reunion. For the Caucasian part of the British populace, anyway, I cannot see how face recognition would work there. Just my tuppence. Or, wear one of these =====>

  21. Tom Paine Silver badge

    Anyone got an address?

    I've spent quite a bit of time in that area over the last few years. Anyone got an address where I should send my SAR?

  22. Sam Crawley

    Not central to the article, but AFAIK most larger companies or office buildings have their own postcode in London.

  23. ocflyfish

    Time to see what Mr. Orwell thinks....

    "The choice for mankind lies between freedom and happiness and for the great bulk of mankind, happiness is better." - George Orwell

    Funny how something said around 70 years ago still rings true today.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What's it FOR??

    "These cameras use a number of detection and tracking methods, including facial recognition, but also have sophisticated systems in place to protect the privacy of the general public."

    Yes, that gets repeated over and over, but what are they being used FOR? Why do you need facial recognition? Whose database are you using to individually identify people's faces?

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