Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Privacy Commissioners Rule Cadillac Fairview’s Use of Facial Recognition Was a Breach of Customers’ Consent

A couple of years ago, I linked to two articles about the use of facial recognition by retailers without explicit consent. One was a CBC News report by Anis Heydari:

The Canadian real estate company behind some of the country’s most popular shopping centres says it is suspending the use of cameras embedded in its mall directories while provincial and federal privacy commissioners investigate their usage.

Cadillac Fairview says they’ve been using facial recognition software in their mall directories since June to track shoppers’ ages and genders without telling them.

Investigators have now finished their work. Catharine Tunney, CBC News:

According to the report, the technology Cadillac Fairview used — known as “anonymous video analytics” or AVA — took temporary digital images of the faces of individuals within the field of view of the camera in the directory.

[…]

The report said the company also kept about 16 hours of video recordings, including some audio, which it had captured during a testing phase at two malls.

Cadillac Fairview said it used AVA technology to assess foot traffic and track shoppers’ ages and genders — but not to identify individuals.

The company also argued shoppers were made aware of the activity through decals it placed on shopping mall entry doors that warned cameras were being used for “safety and security” and included the web address for Cadillac Fairview’s privacy policy.

But the commissioners said that wasn’t good enough and did not meet the standard for meaningful consent.

In context-free terms, that oversimplified disclaimer amounts to an advisory, sure. In the real world, I think we need to establish a clear boundary between surveillance for crime deterrence and image collection for analysis. Intentions matter just as much from a privacy perspective, especially since retailers’ incentives seem to be aligned with collecting far more data if it is to be used for analysis — if the practices of the behavioural advertising industry are anything to go by.