Facial Recognition technology tracks shoppers

July 28, 2018 : CANADA – Facial Recognition technology tracks shoppers in Calgary malls.

It has been discovered that at least two shopping malls are using facial recognition technology to track and identify shoppers’ ages and gender without any warning or obtaining explicit consent.

CBS News reported that a visitor to the Chinook Centre in Calgary spotted a browser window that seemed like it had been accidentally left open on one of the mall’s directories, exposing a facial-recognition app running in the background of the digital map. The visitor immediately took a photo and posted it on social networking site Reddit.

Facial recognition technology tracks shoppers in Calgary malls
Facial recognition technology tracks shoppers in Calgary malls

Cadillac Fairview, the Chinook Centre’s parent company said they began using the software in June, to count the number of people who use the directory, and to predict their approximate age and gender. However, a spokesperson for the company said that it does not record or store any photographs or video from the directory cameras.

Cadillac Fairview said the software is also used at Market Mall in north west Calgary, as well as other shopping malls nationwide.

A Cadillac Fairview spokesperson said.

We don’t require consent, because we’re not capturing or retaining images.

According to Alberta’s Personal Information Privacy Act, people must be notified if their private information is being collected. However, as the mall is not actually storing the recorded images, what they are doing is not illegal. It is not known how many other shopping malls are using the same or similar software, or whether they are recording the data.

Why should we be concerned if Facial Recognition technology tracks shoppers?

Knowing that facial recognition technology tracks shoppers, should we be concerned that this could be the tip of the iceberg? After all, if we have nothering to hide, why worry?

The use of facial recognition technology within the retail sector is becoming commonplace, not only for analysing the behaviour of shoppers, but also to sell targeted advertising space. The technology is also replacing older CCTV systems for security purposes such as identifying shoplifters. The tech can also be used to identify and profile people by race or ethnic group, or even recognize individuals’ faces and then connect those faces with data collected by other means.

Sharon Polsky, from the Privacy and Access Council of Canada said:

The general public would likely be shocked if they realized they were being surveilled with facial recognition technology. The people are not notified. They’re not given an opportunity to opt in, much less opt out.

Ms Polsky added…

The most businesses usually do is post a sign saying a facility is under CCTV surveillance, but few go as far as spelling out to consumers what surveillance actually is taking place or undertake privacy impact assessments. There is no way to verify the alleged purpose, and they [could] start using it for other purposes. From a civil liberties perspective, from a privacy perspective, from the perspective of being able to exercise our rights, it’s a huge concern.

Polsky went on to explain that when multiple forms of data are collected, from CCTV footage, to cellphone data collected when shoppers use public Wi-Fi connections, to the anonymized facial recognition data, it can all be combined to result in negative privacy implications. “They can put together an entire profile,” she said.

Editor’s Comment: When facial recognition technology tracks shoppers in malls people will naturally start asking why? As members of the public become more aware of their Personal Privacy rights (See PIPA for residents of Alberta, Canada) they are understandably concerned about what data is being collected on them and who it is being shared with. As a responsible Data Controller, is your firm able to respond to Access To Information requests in a timely fashion?

For expert help contact Global GDPR expert Peter Borner

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