A few weeks ago, we reported that Kmart, Bunnings Warehouse and The Good Guys were all using facial recognition technology in-store. This week, however, there’s been a bit of a back pedal.
As revealed by consumer advocacy group Choice, Kmart, Bunnings and The Good Guys were recording customers’ faceprints, finding that most Australians were unaware of it.
Bunnings said it only used the tech to help identify persons of interest who have previously been involved in incidents of concern in its stores. It told Gizmodo Australia it was disappointed by Choice’s “inaccurate characterisation” of how it’s using facial recognition. The Good Guys, meanwhile, told us it was trialling a new CCTV system in two stores that can use face and feature recognition technology.
This week, however, The Good Guys shifted gears. It announced it will temporarily stop using facial recognition technology in its stores.
Following CHOICE’s investigation into retailers using facial recognition on customers, @TheGoodGuysAU has announced that they’ll pause facial recognition trials. 👏 This a good first step! Kmart and Bunnings: it’s your move! https://t.co/y8sZSVazF7 pic.twitter.com/7mhQRn89Ml— CHOICE (@choiceaustralia) June 29, 2022
A statement from the company said The Good Guys takes “the confidentiality of personal information extremely seriously and remains confident that the trial complied with all applicable laws”.
“The technology was solely used to review incidents of theft, and for the purposes of customer and team member safety and wellbeing,” the statement said.
Choice said this was “an important step in the right direction” for The Good Guys.
“Meanwhile, Bunnings and Kmart are lagging behind when it comes to any kind of commitment to stop the unethical and unnecessary use of facial recognition technology in their stores,” Choice senior campaigns and policy advisor Amy Pereira said.
“We urge Kmart and Bunnings to reflect on the announcement made yesterday by The Good Guys, and ask them to end their use of facial recognition technology in store.”
According to Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA), face surveillance is an inherently dangerous technology and it has no place in retail stores. Its chair Justin Warren, contacted Bunnings to learn more about what they were doing and why. He reported the Bunnings Privacy Team saying the company is “comfortable” that its use of facial recognition is “undertaken in accordance with the requirements of the Privacy Act”. Warren said the Bunnings reply (published in his post), highlights a fundamental misunderstanding about an important aspect of how facial surveillance technology works.
Choice referred the issue to the Office of the Australian Information Commission (OAIC), alleging the retailers in question may be in breach of the Privacy Act.
In response, the OAIC made a statement declaring retailers must comply with privacy laws.
“It is important that all retail stores, when they are deciding whether to use technology to collect personal information, consider the impact on privacy, the community’s expectations and the need to comply with privacy law,” Australian Information Commissioner and Privacy Commissioner Angelene Falk said.
“The Privacy Act generally requires retailers to only collect sensitive biometric information if it’s reasonably necessary for their functions or activities, and where they have clear consent.
“While deterring theft and creating a safe environment are important goals, using high privacy impact technologies in stores carries significant privacy risks. Retailers need to be able to demonstrate that it is a proportionate response to collect the facial templates of all of their customers coming into their stores for this purpose.”
Last year, 7-Eleven received a slap on the wrist from Falk, after she ruled the convenience store group interfered with customers’ privacy by collecting sensitive biometric information, without their consent.