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Missing the mark on messaging about retail facial recognition use sparks backlash

Getting it right might too
Missing the mark on messaging about retail facial recognition use sparks backlash

Clear communication about the use of biometrics in retail environments is even more important than in places like airports, at least from a business perspective. The retailers using facial recognition and the vendors supplying it, however, continue to struggle with their messaging to customers.

The sign-off on Facewatch’s use of live facial recognition in its in-store theft prevention system by the UK Information Commissioner’s Office was not as presented by the company, according to Big Brother Watch.

A statement on Facewatch’s website and social media accounts that the ICO had found its products “fully compliant with UK Data Protection law” has been deleted. Further, the advocacy group has published a letter surfaced through a Freedom of Information request in which the ICO identifies 8 separate points of data protection legislation that were breached by the biometric less-prevention system.

Facewatch was instructed to carry out a series of changes to the way it process data in 12 bullet points, which were redacted from the document. Additional steps specified by the ICO include regular policy reviews, data protection impact assessments, and legitimate interest assessments. Several of the 10 items recommended for further action were also redacted.

The ICO’s approval was overstated, it said in a subsequent Tweet clarifying that it “had not provided blanket approval of the company.” The ICO also asked the company to stop using its logo in promotional material.

A New York Times profile notes that Facewatch’s facial recognition, licensed from Amazon and RealNetworks (SAFR), has been deployed to nearly 400 shops in the UK.

The changes made by Facewatch include more signage, shared information about a reduced pool of offenders and less alerts, an ICO official told the Times.

One customer, meanwhile, says Facewatch has saved a retail operator with 23 stores 50,000 pounds (roughly US$65,500) since 2020.

In Australia, retailer Bunnings has also courted controversy with its signage, warning customers that both facial recognition and number plate recognition could be used on its property, 7News reports.

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner is investigating Bunnings’ use of facial recognition, and the retailer suspended its use of the technology pending the investigation’s conclusion.

It is unclear how long automated number plate recognition has been used by Bunnings. The retailer has not reintroduced the use of facial recognition at this time, but that has not stopped people online from alleging that it has.

The appearance of a sign warning patrons of a ShopRite store in Connecticut, U.S. has sparked some concern among area residents, according to CTInsider.com. The signs are an attempt to meet the transparency requirements of the Connecticut Data Privacy Act, which went into effect July 1.

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