Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Thousands of Stores Will Soon Use Facial Recognition Without Consent

Anis Heydari, CBC News:

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.

The company now says they are suspending use of the cameras inside mall maps, including at Chinook Centre and Market Mall in Calgary.

The move comes after both the Alberta and federal privacy commissioners announced they were launching investigations into the use of facial recognition technology without the public’s consent.

When news of this first spread late last month, I asked Cadillac Fairview, Mappedin — which created the software that was being used at these malls — and the Privacy Commissioner of Alberta for comment. Mappedin denied to comment and told me to ask Cadillac Fairview; a Cadillac Fairview spokesperson told me that, because no photos or videos of shoppers were stored, they did not need to ask permission. The Privacy Commissioner’s office declined to comment even generally about whether this interpretation of the law was correct.

The Cadillac Fairview spokesperson also did not comment on whether the age and gender estimates they were creating through this facial recognition system were being associated with other data, like search queries on the mall directory or device tracking.

Leticia Miranda, Buzzfeed:

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

[…]

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

It’s shocking to me that, in the U.S. and Canada at least, there is little oversight for the collection of this kind of data. Pretty much every retailer and mall has security cameras and there are notices at entrances that notify visitors. But there is a big difference between using those cameras to monitor for shoplifters and continually processing video feeds for behavioural analytics purposes.