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UK Schools Normalizing Biometric Collection By Using Facial Recognition For Meal Payments

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Subjecting students to surveillance tech is nothing new. Most schools have had cameras installed for years. Moving students from desks to laptops allows schools to monitor internet use, even when students aren't on campus. Bringing police officers into schools to participate in disciplinary problems allows law enforcement agencies to utilize the same tech and analytics they deploy against the public at large. And if cameras are already in place, it's often trivial to add facial recognition features.The same tech that can keep kids from patronizing certain retailers is also being used to keep deadbeat kids from scoring free lunches. While some local governments in the United States are trying to limit the expansion of surveillance tech in their own jurisdictions, governments in the United Kingdom seem less concerned about the mission creep of surveillance technology.

Some students in the UK are now able to pay for their lunch in the school canteen using only their faces. Nine schools in North Ayrshire, Scotland, started taking payments using biometric information gleaned from facial recognition systems on Monday, according to the Financial Times. [alt link]The technology is being provided by CRB Cunningham, which has installed a system that scans the faces of students and cross-checks them against encrypted faceprint templates stored locally on servers in the schools. It's being brought in to replace fingerprint scanning and card payments, which have been deemed less safe since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the Financial Times report, 65 schools have already signed up to participate in this program, which has supposedly dropped transaction times at the lunchroom register to less than five seconds per student. I assume that's an improvement, but it seems fingerprints/cards weren't all that slow and there are plenty of options for touchless payment if schools need somewhere to spend their cafeteria tech money.CRB says more than 97% of parents have consented to the collection and use of their children's biometric info to… um… move kids through the lunch line faster. I guess the sooner you get kids used to having their faces scanned to do mundane things, the less likely they'll be to complain when demands for info cross over into more private spaces.The FAQ on the program makes it clear it's a single-purpose collection governed by a number of laws and data collection policies. Parents can opt out at any time and all data is deleted after opt out or if the student leaves the school. It's good this is being handled responsibly but, like all facial recognition tech, mistakes can (and will) be made. When these inevitably occur, hopefully the damage will be limited to a missed meal.The FAQ handles questions specifically about this program. The other flyer published by the North Ayrshire Council explains nothing and implies facial recognition is harmless, accurate, and a positive addition to students' lives.
We're introducing Facial Recognition!This new technology is now available for a contactless meal service!
Following this exciting announcement, the flyer moves on to discussing biometric collections and the tech that makes it all possible. It accomplishes this in seven short "land of contrasts" paragraphs that explain almost nothing and completely ignore the inherent flaws in these systems as well as the collateral damage misidentification can cause.The section titled "The history of biometrics" contains no history. Instead, it says biometric collections are already omnipresent so why worry about paying for lunch with your face?
Whilst the use of biometric recognition has been steadily growing over the last decade or so, these past couple of years have seen an explosion in development, interest and vendor involvement, particularly in mobile devices where they are commonly used to verify the owner of the device before unlocking or making purchases.
If students want to learn more (or anything) about the history of biometrics, I guess they'll need to do their own research. Because this is the next (and final) paragraph of the "history of biometrics" section:
We are delighted to offer this fast and secure identification technology to purchase our delicious and nutritious school meals
Time is a flattened circle, I guess. The history of biometrics is the present. And the present is the future of student payment options, of which there are several. But these schools have put their money on facial recognition, which will help them raise a generation of children who've never known a life where they weren't expected to use their bodies to pay for stuff.

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posted at: 12:00am on 03-Nov-2021
path: /Policy | permalink | edit (requires password)

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Nintendo Killed Emulation Sites Then Released Garbage N64 Games For The Switch

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So, here's the thing: I get accused of picking on Nintendo a whole lot. But please know, it's not that I want to pick on them, it's just that they make it so damned easy to. I'm a golfer, okay? If I have a club in my hand and suddenly a ball on a tee appears before me, I'm going to hit that ball every time without hesitation. You will recall that a couple of years back, Nintendo opened up a new front on its constant IP wars by going after ROM and emulation sites. That caused plenty of sites to simply shut themselves down, but Nintendo also made a point of getting some scalps to hang on its belt, most famously in the form of RomUniverse. That site, which very clearly had infringing material not only on the site but promoted by the site's ownership, got slapped around in the courts to the tune of a huge judgement against, which the site owners simply cannot pay.But all of those are details and don't answer the real question: why did Nintendo do this? Well, as many expected from the beginning, it did this because the company was planning to release a series of classic consoles, namely the NES mini and SNES mini. But, of course, what about later consoles? Such as the Nintendo 64?Well, the answer to that is that Nintendo has offered a Nintendo Switch Online service uplift that includes some N64 games that you can play there instead.

After years of "N64 mini" rumors (which have yet to come to fruition), Nintendo announced plans to honor its first fully 3D gaming system late last month in the form of the Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack. Pay a bit extra, the company said, and you'd get a select library of N64 classics, emulated by the company that made them, on Switch consoles as part of an active NSO subscription.One month later, however, Nintendo's sales proposition grew more sour. That "bit extra" ballooned to $30 more per year, on top of the existing $20/year fee—a 150 percent jump in annual price. Never mind that the price also included an Animal Crossing expansion pack (which retro gaming fans may not want) and Sega Genesis games (which have been mostly released ad nauseam on every gaming system of the past decade). For many interested fans, that price jump was about the N64 collection.
So, a bit of a big price tag and a bunch of extras that are mostly besides the point from the perspective of the buyer. Buy, hey, at least Nintendo fans will finally get some N64 games to play on their Switch consoles, right?Well, it turns out that Nintendo's offering cannot come close to matching the quality of the very emulators and ROMs that Nintendo has worked so hard to disappear. The Ars Technica post linked above goes into excruciating details, some of which we'll discuss for the purpose of giving examples, but here are the categories that Nintendo's product does worse than an emulator on a PC.
  • Game options, such as visual settings for resolution to fit modern screens
  • Visuals, such as N64's famous blur settings, and visual changes that expose outdated graphical sprites
  • Controller input lag
  • Controller configuration options
  • Multiplayer lag/stutter
If that seems like a lot of problems compared with emulators that have been around for quite a while, well, ding ding ding! We'll get into some examples briefly below, but I'll stipulate that none of the issues in the categories above are incredibly bad. But there are so many of them that they all add up to bad!Let's take the problems around how N64's blur is used, or not used in this case.
This issue rears its head much more often in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, which avid speedrunner ZFG1 detailed at length in a seven-hour stream shortly after the NSO Expansion Pack went live. The pack's issues with inaccurate blur become immediately evident in that classic game's opening zone of Kakariko Village. In that zone, the looming Deku Tree normally hides in a massive field of fog above hero Link's head. In the current NSO version, on the other hand, the blur is absent, revealing an unseemly low-resolution sprite. Worse, Nintendo originally used selective fog placement as a way to guide players' attention towards points of interest in the village, yet these fogs have now been erased.Anyone who's looked into the NSO Expansion Pack's launch has almost certainly seen ZFG1's most glaring discovery, as well: the game's Water Temple battle against a "shadow" version of Link, which takes place in a foggy, open-air zone surrounded by reflective water. On Switch, this room pares back the fog effect almost entirely. Worse, it fails to properly cast reflections on the water's surface, which changes the aesthetic tone of the subsequent, harrowing battle.
This sort of thing breaks immersion and the overall feel and flow of a game. And the Legend of Zelda example is not isolated.As to the way controls are handled, well...
In Ocarina of Time and Star Fox 64, constant C-button access is imperative for proper control in ways that don't suit removing your fingers from the primary A and B action buttons. Yet instead of making those crucial C buttons available at all times, Nintendo bolts only two of them on the ABXY array. Players are then required to use an awkward shortcut system to access those buttons: hold the "ZR" button, which temporarily "shifts" the ABXY array to become the four C-button directions.
If this all strikes you as minor details not worth being upset over, I have two responses. First, you are probably not a huge fan of these classic Nintendo titles and systems, because these "minor" things represent a massive break from the experience you have in your head playing these games. Given that the sales pitch for this NSO uplift is all about nostalgia, that freaking matters!And second, fans of these titles had a better product to give them what they wanted: the emulation sites Nintendo shut down. Granted, getting ROMs from those sites without owning the original certainly was/is infringing activity... but if Nintendo was going to slay the piracy dragon in favor of its own offering, that offering should at least be on par with the emulators, no?Because in the end, here's the reality: Nintendo worked hard to prevent fans of antiquated games and systems from enjoying those games in order to get them to buy an inferior product. Love Nintendo, hate Nintendo, that's the stark reality. And it's a shitty look for a company.

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posted at: 12:00am on 03-Nov-2021
path: /Policy | permalink | edit (requires password)

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