Did Walmart cross a line with its facial recognition tech test?
Whether or not the public at large will accept the use of facial recognition in their daily lives remains to be seen, but it is clear that retailers are willing to investigate whether the controversial technology has a role to play in stores. Fortune, for example, recently reported that Walmart had been testing the use of facial recognition technology to identify shoplifters.
According to the Fortune article, Walmart used a solution called FaceFirst, which works by scanning the face of every shopper that comes through the door. The software then checks each face against a preexisting database of suspected shoplifters. If the face of a customer matches with one in the database, the store’s staff are alerted on their mobile devices.
The software was in place in stores throughout several states for several months. The use was discontinued due to a failure to produce a positive return on investment.
Fortune attempted to get in touch with various other retailers about the use of FaceFirst, but only Walmart admitted to having used it.
A consumer survey quoted in RetailWire in August of 2015 noted that 75 percent of consumers said they would not shop at a store that used facial recognition for marketing purposes.
Whether consumers are more comfortable with facial recognition being used for loss prevention remains to be seen, as is whether facial recognition intended for loss prevention purposes will eventually creep into other areas of a business.
Privacy watchdogs have been attempting to set specific guidelines for the use of such potentially invasive technology, as well as similar technologies used on social media. The results have not been what they had hoped.
Longtime online privacy advocate organization the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) had, according to a press release, been engaged in a National Telecommunications Information Administration process to arrive at sensible limits for the use of facial recognition technology in the private sector and the sharing of information collected with government agencies.
According to a statement on EFF.org from June of 2015, the EFF pulled out of the process along with eight other privacy organizations after 16 months due to their perception that companies refused to place the most basic limitations on the use of the technology for the sake of privacy.
- Walmart’s Use of Sci-fi Tech To Spot Shoplifters Raises Privacy Questions – Fortune
- Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. On The Spot Over Use Face Scanning Technology In Stores – Invest Correctly
- Are shoppers ready for their facial recognition close ups? – RetailWire
- EFF and Eight Other Privacy Organizations Back Out of NTIA Face Recognition Multi-Stakeholder Process – EFF.org
Do you see a practical use for facial recognition technology in retailers’ loss prevention efforts? Do you expect that privacy advocates to derail the practice?