Bunnings, Kmart and The Good Guys have used facial recognition technology in an effort to combat in-store theft, according to research by Choice.
The consumer group said it asked 25 of Australia’s biggest retailers whether they use facial recognition technology and reviewed their privacy policies.
Based on that survey, he said, the three appeared to be the only retailers in that group using the technology.
Facial recognition technology captures images of people’s faces from video cameras – such as CCTV footage – as a unique facial print which is then stored and can be compared to other facial prints.
According to Choice, Kmart and Bunnings have small signs about the stores where it’s used. At Kmart, it says “this store has 24-hour CCTV coverage, which includes facial recognition technology.” Bunnings and Kmart’s privacy policies state that facial recognition technology is intended for “loss prevention or in-store security purposes.”
“The use of facial recognition by Kmart, Bunnings and The Good Guys is a totally inappropriate and unnecessary use of technology,” said Kate Bower, consumer data advocate for Choice.
“Unobtrusive signage and online privacy policies are not enough to adequately inform shoppers that this controversial technology is being used. The technology captures highly personal data from customers, including infants and children. »
A Bunnings spokesperson said the technology was used in some stores “to help prevent theft and keep our team and customers safe” and was in line with the Privacy Law.
“In recent years, we have seen an increase in the number of difficult interactions our team has had to manage in our stores and this technology is an important tool to help us prevent repeat team and customer abuse,” said he declared.
The Good Guys said facial recognition technology had been tested in two stores to prevent theft and boost security. Stores have signs at the entrance informing customers that the technology is being used, a spokesperson said.
Kmart said it is also testing the technology “in a small number of stores” for loss prevention and security. He said personal information will remain private and protected in accordance with privacy law.
Businesses are generally allowed to use CCTV to photograph customers on their premises, but Choice expressed concern that privacy law has not kept pace with advances in facial recognition technology.
A Choice survey published as part of the research found that 78% of respondents were concerned about how their biometric data was stored, while 75% were concerned that companies would use the data to create customer profiles at marketing purposes.
Choice says it informed the OPCW (Office of the Australian Information Commissioner) of its findings and asked them to determine whether the use of the technology complies with privacy law.
“Choice is concerned that Australian companies are using facial recognition technology on consumers before Australians have had a say in its use in our community,” Bower said.
Convenience store giant 7-Eleven last year disabled a feature in more than 700 in-store review tablets that OAIC found had taken facial images of millions of customers who used the tablets to complete surveys without their consent. The company argued at the time that the images were only used to ensure that multiple investigations were not carried out by the same person in one day and that it destroyed the images.
Kieran Pender, senior attorney at the Human Rights Law Center, said the growing use of facial technology raises human rights concerns.
“These technologies should only be used with strong safeguards ensuring that the use is necessary, proportionate and subject to appropriate oversight,” he said. “The new Albanian government should prioritize the implementation of regulations governing facial recognition technologies as part of the upcoming overhaul of the electronic surveillance framework.”
A spokesperson for the OAIC said it would review the findings.
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