Students Discover M&M’s Vending Machine is Spying on Them

M&M's vending machine spying on students

Students at the University of Waterloo in Canada have expressed their dismay after discovering the M&M’s vending machine installed on their campus has been spying on them.

The drama unfolded after a Redditor by the name of SquidKid47 posted an error message displayed on the machine which read, “Invenda.Vending. FacialRecognition.App.exe — Application error.”

“Hey, so why do the stupid m&m machines have facial recognition?” wrote the Redditor, identified as a student called River Stanley by Ars Technica who is a writer for the student newspaper MathNEWS.

After investigating, Stanley discovered the smart vending machines were provided by Adaria Vending Services which are manufactured by the Invenda Group. But it’s Mars, which owns M&M’s, that actually owns the machines.

M&M's vending machine University of Waterloo
The facial recognition error message discovered by River Stanley on the University of Waterloo campus.

M&M's vending machine University of Waterloo

Stanley reached out to the Invenda group which responded by stating, “An individual person cannot be identified using the technology in the machines”.

“What’s most important to understand is that the machines do not take or store any photos or images, and an individual person cannot be identified using the technology in the machines,” the statement reads.

“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.”

Ivenda says the machines are GDPR compliant — European regulations that legislate for how corporations can collect data on citizens.

“It does not engage in storage, communication, or transmission of any imagery or personally identifiable information,” Invenda Group’s statement continues.

“The software conducts local processing of digital image maps derived from the USB optical sensor in real-time, without storing such data on permanent memory mediums or transmitting it over the Internet to the Cloud.”

The Dana Porter Library, University of Waterloo. | Public Domain

But MathNEWS reports that Invenda Group’s FAQ page says, “Only the final data, namely presence of a person, estimated age and estimated gender, is collected without any association with an individual.”

The University of Waterloo is now expected to remove the machines.

“The university has asked that these machines be removed from campus as soon as possible. In the meantime, we’ve asked that the software be disabled,” University of Waterloo spokesperson Rebecca Elming tells CTV News.

“We wouldn’t have known if it weren’t for the application error. There’s no warning here,” says Stanley who adds that he will file a complaint to the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario if the university does not remove the M&M’s machines.

Image credits: River Stanley