Kmart and Bunnings under investigation over ‘creepy and invasive’ cameras

Kmart, Bunnings and The Good Guys are under investigation over their use of facial recognition cameras in some stores.

Consumer group CHOICE is investigating retail giants’ use of the controversial technology, which is used on customers as they enter stores.

CHOICE said it analyzed the privacy policies of 25 major retailers and specifically asked if they used facial recognition cameras in stores.

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Based on information received, CHOICE says Kmart, Bunnings and The Good Guys appear to be the only three using the technology.

The consumer group went on to say that a study of 1,034 Australian households found that 76% of consumers were unaware that retailers were capturing their images.

CHOICE said some survey respondents described the technology as “scary and invasive” and “unnecessary and dangerous”.

The ‘Entry Requirements’ sign at Kmart Marrickville in Sydney. Credit: CHOICE

“Most of these privacy policies have to be researched online, and they’re often not easy to find,” said CHOICE Kate Bower, consumer data advocate.

“But because we’re talking about retail stores in person, chances are no one reads a privacy policy before entering a store.”

Both Kmart and Bunnings have signs in their store informing shoppers about the technology. They both further claim that the footage – which is viewed by some staff – is designed to ensure the safety of customers and staff (see full statements below).

At Kmart, a ‘Conditions of Entry’ sign at the front of a store reads: ‘It is a condition of entry that any bag, parcel, carton or container be presented for verification if required by a member of the ‘crew.

“It can happen in fitting rooms or at exit points from stores. When leaving the store, proof of purchase must be presented.

“This store has 24-hour CCTV coverage, which includes facial recognition technology.”

File image of a Kmart store. Credit: PAUL MILLER/AAPIMAGE

A Kmart the spokesperson said 7NEWS.com.au that the cameras are used to help prevent incidents of concern, including any physical violence and abuse towards staff and customers.

“At Kmart, we are testing facial recognition in a small number of stores for limited security and loss prevention purposes (such as reducing refund fraud),” the spokesperson said.

“We are committed to keeping personal information private and protected in accordance with privacy law.

“We educate our customers about facial recognition through our entry signage requirements at participating stores and through our Kmart Privacy Policy.”

7NEWS.com.au understands that all CCTV footage is securely stored and managed and is automatically destroyed after 30 days, except for previous offenders which are stored in a restricted facial recognition database for three months.

It is also believed that the data is only accessible to a small number of Kmart team members.

Bunnings said it uses facial recognition technology in some stores. File picture. Credit: NilsBV/Getty Images

Bunnings COO Simon McDowell said the retail giant was disappointed with the CHOICE survey.

“We are disappointed with CHOICE’s inaccurate characterization of Bunnings’ use of facial recognition technology in certain stores,” he said. 7NEWS.com.au.

“This technology is used only to ensure the safety of the team and customers and to prevent illegal activities in our stores, which is in accordance with the Privacy Act.

“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 abuse and threatening behavior towards our team and our customers. .

“There are strict controls around the use of the technology which are only accessible to a specially trained team. This technology is not used for marketing, tracking consumer behavior and images of children are not are never recorded.

“We inform customers if the technology is used through signage at the entrance to our stores and also in our privacy policy, which is available via the homepage of our website.”

Bunnings says technology is one of many measures used to keep staff and customers safe. File picture. Credit: AAP

7NEWS.com.au understand that Bunnings only collects facial recognition patterns for specific people who have ever been banned from a store, or otherwise involved in a situation of suspected threat to our team and customers, or involved in suspected criminal activity in the stores.

Use of the Bunnings system is restricted to trained and authorized loss prevention specialists only.

It is believed that all Bunnings CCTV footage is securely stored and managed and is automatically destroyed after a period of time, which is normally around 30 days.

Images of individuals enrolled in the facial recognition system are monitored, reviewed, evaluated and reported internally in accordance with our minimum standards for using this technology.

7NEWS.com.au understands that these are securely stored and managed and reviewed regularly to determine if they should be deleted.

Any matches detected by the technology are manually checked by a specialist-trained team member before any action is taken.

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