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Retail Usage of Facial Recognition Technology: Detrimental?

Among the most significant advancements is the innovation of facial recognition technology. More than three in four Australians are unaware that businesses are capturing their faceprint. According to research by Choice, Australia’s leading consumer advocacy group, Bunnings, Kmart, and The Good Guys are the conglomerates that apply this technology for security purposes. This finding was from a survey where Choice asked 25 of Australia’s most significant retailers if they used facial recognition tech and examined their privacy policies.

How does Facial Recognition Work?

At its essence, the mechanics of facial recognition security tech are straightforward. The technology captures customer images in the store via video cameras, then stores these images as a unique faceprint. In cases of theft, stores are easier able to identify the culprit by using and also comparing different faceprints.

While the mechanics of facial recognition technology are simple, the privacy policies of some stores might affect implementation. The privacy policy of some stores allows inconspicuous comparison and identification of someone’s face. Not only does the tech track a person’s journey around the store but it also retains the unique facial blueprint for future visits.

Other stores merely incorporate small signage that “notifies” the customer of their facial recognition technology. For example, where a sign states, “this store has 24-hour CCTV coverage, which includes facial recognition technology.”

The justification of this technology predicates the purpose: loss prevention and store safety but there are also claims that the tech is used to “improve customer experience.”

Issues Regarding Facial Recognition

With tech as powerful as facial recognition, many consumers feel uncomfortable about having their facial prints recorded without express or informed consent. A Choice survey found that 78% of consumers have concerns about this method of biometric capture and data storage. The apprehension stems primarily from leakage and breach of privacy. Furthermore, 75% have concerns about customer profiles used for marketing purposes.

These companies often posit that their technology does not violate any clause in the Privacy Act. Plus, they claim to give their customers advance notice of facial recognition tech through discreet signage and online privacy policies. They argue this tech is for the safety of their employees and customers.

Choice was quick to respond to these propositions. Their central concern is with the Privacy act. While a business can implement workplace monitoring tech-like CCTV systems, Choice considered there are no amendments in the Privacy Law to cover advances in facial recognition technology.

Kate Bower, a Choice consumer data advocate, responded to their “signage argument” by saying:

“Discreet signage and online privacy policies are not nearly enough to adequately inform shoppers that this controversial technology is in use. The technology is capturing highly personal data from customers, including infants and children.”

The use of facial recognition by Kmart, Bunnings and The Good Guys is a “completely inappropriate and unnecessary use of the technology,” she continued.

Actions Taken by Choice

Among the central concerns is consent obtainment. It worries Choice that Australian businesses are using the technology without first asking the consent of the community.

Consequently, Choice notified the OIAC (Office of the Australian Information Commissioner) of its findings. They asked the OIAC to check if the facial recognition system does violate the Privacy Act.

OAIC will consider these findings and take appropriate actions if there are anomalies.

Key Takeaways:

  • A facial recognition security system is a potent and innovative technology that can significantly prevent or deter theft and help solve theft crimes. It can, however, just as easily result in privacy breaches, data leaks or abuse.
  • Choice raised these concerns with the OIAC (Office of the Australian Information Commissioner) to determine whether Bunnings, The Good Guys, and Kmart’s use of this technology is necessary, proportionate, and in line with the Privacy Act.

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Disclaimer. The material in this post represents general information only and should not be taken to be legal advice.

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