Retail Companies Are Testing Out Facial Recognition At Their Stores

Facial recognition cameras are scanning faces at hundreds of retail stores to catch shoplifters before they steal. nevertheless everyday shoppers are often unaware of which their faces are being scanned.

Posted on August 17, 2018, at 10:28 a.m. ET

Retailers are turning to facial recognition software to identify potential thieves by comparing scanned images of shoppers’ faces against a database of known shoplifters. nevertheless as more retail stores consider using the technology, privacy advocates along with also industry stakeholders are debating how the technology should be regulated along with also how shoppers should be informed about when their faces are scanned.

“We don’t want to live in a world where government bureaucrats can enter in your name into a database along with also get a record of where you’ve been along with also what your financial, political, sexual, along with also medical associations along with also activities are,” Jay Stanley, an attorney with ACLU, told BuzzFeed News about the use of facial recognition cameras in retail stores. “along with also we don’t want a world in which people are being stopped along with also hassled by authorities because they bear resemblance to some scary character.”

The exact number of retailers using facial recognition cameras in their stores is actually unclear. nevertheless Peter Trepp, the CEO of the facial recognition software company FaceFirst, told BuzzFeed News of which “hundreds of [retail] locations, growing to thousands very soon” have been outfitted with the company’s facial recognition software as part of their stores’ overall security systems. FaceFirst declined to share details about its retail clients, citing nondisclosure agreements with the companies.

While companies like Cognitec along with also Amazon Rekognition offer facial recognition software for border control, login authentication, along with also photo analysis, Trepp said FaceFirst is actually the dominant retail vendor for facial recognition camera software. “Retail is actually not quite half of total business, nevertheless of which’s getting there,” he said. “If you think about the top 40 or top 80 companies you know, almost all of them are thinking about facial recognition or they’ve all at least looked into of which.”

Getty Images/Justin Sullivan

Target is actually one well-liked retailer of which considered using the tech. The retail giant tested facial recognition software “in a tiny number of Target stores to understand its ability to help prevent fraud along with also theft,” according to Jenna Reck, a Target spokesperson. Reck told BuzzFeed News of which Target posted signs at the entrance of test stores to inform shoppers about its facial recognition software during the test. She said the test has since concluded along with also the company does not currently use facial recognition cameras. As of publication time, Target still notes in its online privacy policy of which some of its store cameras “may use biometrics, including facial recognition for fraud along with also theft prevention along with also security.” The company declined to provide details on when along with also where of which tested the technology, or whether of which would likely try using facial recognition in stores within the future.

Walmart also scrapped a test of facial recognition software in 2015 because of which didn’t “contain the ROI,” or return on investment, according to Fortune. Walmart told BuzzFeed News of which does not currently have plans to roll out the technology in any of its stores, nevertheless of which filed for a facial recognition patent last year to identify unhappy customers along with also recently patented a system to listen in on employees’ conversations. (Simply filing for a patent does not necessarily mean the retail chain has plans to actually develop along with also use the technology in its stores.) The home improvement chain Lowe’s also “decided against using the technology in any way” at its stores four years ago after a three-month test at three stores, a spokesperson for the company told BuzzFeed News.

Dollar General, Gap Inc., Macy’s, Costco, along with also Walgreens told BuzzFeed News they do not use facial recognition software in their stores. CVS, Best Buy, TJX, along with also 7-Eleven did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News’ request for comment.

Shoppers don’t have a say about whether or not the software scans them. of which’s because companies are not legally required to get consent coming from shoppers to collect so-called biometric data like face images, except in Illinois where of which has been illegal to collect biometric data without written consent since 2008.

“There is actually not currently consent with This specific,” said Trepp. “There are lots of protections in place to make sure of which the activities of which go on with the technology are centered around protecting the private property along with also the customers along with also employees of of which business. This specific is actually not about tracking unknown people or using of which data or marketing of which data.”

The motivation for retailers to use facial recognition tech is actually to reduce theft, said Trepp. Retailers reported about 1.33% of sales were lost in 2017 to theft by employees, individual shoplifters, or organized retail criminals, which can amount to billions of dollars in lost sales, according to the retail trade association National Retail Foundation.

Trepp said of which in some cases, his company’s technology has reduced theft in stores by more than 30%.

FaceFirst’s software is actually designed to scan faces as far as 50 to 100 feet away. As people walk through a store entrance, the video camera captures multiple images of each shopper along with also chooses the clearest one. The software analyzes of which image along with also compares of which to a database of “dishonest customers” of which the retailer has compiled; if there is actually a match, the software sends an alert to store employees within seconds of of which person walking through the door.

Trepp said the database is actually not shared with additional retailers or with FaceFirst directly. All retailers have their own policies, nevertheless Trepp said often stores will offer not to press charges against apprehended shoplifters if they agree to opt into the store’s shoplifter database. The files containing the images along with also identities of people on “the bad guy list” are encrypted along with also only accessible to retailers using their own systems, he said.

FaceFirst automatically purges visitor data of which does not match information in a criminal database every 14 days, which is actually the company’s minimum recommendation for auto-purging data. of which’s up to the retailer if apprehended shoplifters or people previously on the list can later opt out of the database.

At the heart of the debate between privacy advocates along with also industry groups over facial recognition tech is actually the question of whether of which should be “opt-in,” meaning people give consent before being targeted by the technology, or “opt-out,” in which people can ask to be removed coming from any data after being automatically included.

Privacy advocates, attorneys, along with also recently Microsoft, which also markets its own facial recognition software, have raised concerns over the technology, pointing to issues of consent, racial profiling, along with also the potential to use images gathered through facial recognition cameras as evidence of criminal guilt. Meanwhile, industry groups argue regulation of the tech stems innovation, pointing to Illinois as an example where Nest’s Cam IQ isn’t sold along with also Google’s art selfie tool isn’t available because of the state’s biometric law.

“of which’s definitely curtailing innovation,” Carl Szabo, general counsel for NetChoice, an internet trade group of which represents companies like Facebook, Google, along with also Yahoo, told BuzzFeed News. ”of which’s generating Illinois a technology desert.”

Since laws of which would likely regulate This specific tech are at a stalemate on a federal level, along with also demand for facial recognition in retail stores is actually growing, the ACLU’s Stanley said stores should not use the technology “without at least informing their customers to ensure of which their customers can take of which into account.”

“Companies seem to be shamefully secretive about the use of of which,” he said. “The ultimate fear is actually of which technology is actually used to track everybody all the time.”

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