Major retailers using facial recognition technology on unsuspecting customers: Choice – Sydney Morning Herald

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Major Australian retailers have been secretly capturing the faces of their customers without their knowledge, a consumer group investigation has found.
The Choice investigation examined 25 of the country’s biggest retailers and revealed Bunnings, The Good Guys and Kmart have been analysing CCTV footage to create profiles or “face prints” of their customers, including children, without their knowledge.
Kmart failed to confirm its use of the technology to Choice. Credit:Penny Stephens
Based on the results of the investigation, the three retailers seem to be the only ones using facial recognition technology. Bunnings and The Good Guys acknowledged it was in place in its stores while Kmart failed to respond to Choice’s request for confirmation.
Consumer group data advocate Kate Bower said almost 80 per cent of Australians were not aware retailers were capturing their facial features in this way and that it was similar to “collecting your fingerprints or DNA every time you shop”.
“Businesses using invasive technologies to capture their customers’ sensitive biometric information is unethical and is a sure way to erode consumer trust,” she said.
Bunnings chief operating officer Simon McDowell said the technology was only used to keep staff and customers safe and appropriate notice had been provided.
“We’ve seen an increase in the number of challenging interactions our team have had to handle … This technology is an important tool in helping us to prevent repeat abuse of our team and customers,” he said.
“There are strict controls around the use of the technology which can only be accessed by specially trained team.”
McDowell disagreed with Choice’s determination the company had breached the Privacy Act and said images of children are not stored.
“Our use is solely for the purpose of preventing threatening situations and theft, which is consistent with the Privacy Act.
“We let customers know if the technology is in use through signage at our store entrances and also in our privacy policy, which is available on our website.”
A spokeswoman for The Good Guys said the “face and feature recognition technology” is a trial and limited to two stores for now.
“This technology is used solely for the purposes of loss prevention and the safety of our store team members and customers. We let our customers know the technology is in use in these two stores through our store entrance signage, and in our privacy policy that is available on our website.”
But Choice said this style of communication was insufficient.
“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,” she said.
Choice has referred the offending retailers to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner to investigate potential breaches of the Privacy Act and is lobbying the government to implement a regulatory framework to protect consumers from harmful and unfair practices.
“With the government currently undergoing a review of the Privacy Act, now is the perfect time to strengthen measures around the capture and use of consumer data, including biometric data,” Bower said.
Kmart has been approached for comment.
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