Experts Call On Government To Keep Up With Facial Recognition Tech In Australian Retail Stores

Kmart, Bunnings, and the Good Guys were all found to be collecting biometric data.

facial recognition

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Privacy concerns were sparked after it was revealed that major Australian retailers have been using facial recognition tech to monitor customers.

Consumer publication CHOICE revealed on Wednesday that Kmart, Bunnings, and The Good Guys were using CCTV footage to capture and store the ‘faceprints’ — or facial features profiles — in an attempt to monitor theft.

They also found that 80 percent of Australians didn’t know their faces were being analysed while shopping at all. The move has been slammed as unethical, with experts expressing concern over the communication of their policies and conditions of entry which allowed the use of the tech in the first place.

“The first concern is notice and consent, it’s not in highly visible forms of public notification that would invite people to understand what’s taking place,” Media Studies Professor at Monash University Mark Andrejevic told CHOICE.

“I think the other set of concerns is we don’t have a clear set of regulations or guidelines on the appropriate use of the technology. That leaves it pretty wide open,” he said. “Stores may be using it for the purposes of security now, but down the road, they may also include terms of use that would say that they can use it for marketing purposes.”

The Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology said in a statement that a moratorium should be introduced until safeguards are ensured, in line with the Human Rights Commission report ‘Human Rights and Technology‘ last year.

“It’s not good enough for a business to say that it is implementing this technology to crack down on theft without the public knowing the way the data is being collected, how it’s being stored, what it’s being used for, and whether it’s being sold on to other parties,” said Director Peter Lewis. “We need comprehensive privacy law reform and a pause on implementation of this potentially harmful and invasive technology.”

In the report, released last May, the Human Rights Commission said more needs to be done to protect the community from the opportunity of biometric tech misuse.

“There is strong and growing community concern regarding some forms of facial recognition technology, which can be prone to high error rates, especially for certain racial and other groups,” the group said, expressing concern around surveillance, and the myriad potential for human rights infringements.

— Update: Thursday June 16 5.30pm

Statement from Simon McDowell, Bunnings Chief Operating Officer:

“We are disappointed by CHOICE’s inaccurate characterisation of Bunnings’ use of facial recognition technology in selected stores.  This technology is used solely to keep team and customers safe and prevent unlawful activity in our stores, which is consistent with the Privacy Act.

In recent years, we’ve seen an increase in the number of challenging interactions our team have had to handle in our stores and this technology is an important tool in helping us to prevent repeat abuse and threatening behaviour towards our team and customers.

There are strict controls around the use of the technology which can only be accessed by specially trained team.  This technology is not used for marketing, consumer behaviour tracking, and images of children are never enrolled.

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 via the homepage of our website.”

Statement from The Good Guys:

A spokeswoman told the Sydney Morning Herald that “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.”