Do the benefits of using facial recognition in retail outweigh the risks?
Facial recognition technology has many practical applications, including law enforcement, airport security and retail loss prevention to name a few. And while these use cases seem reasonable to most people, not everyone is enamored with facial recognition technology or how it’s being used.
Thus far there has been very little legislation regarding the use of facial recognition, but that’s changing. On May 14, the city of San Francisco passed the Stop Secret Surveillance Ordinance that bans city agencies including law enforcement from utilizing facial recognition technologies. The legislation doesn’t apply to businesses, but one has to wonder if this is only a matter of time.
In March, a bipartisan bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate to strengthen consumer protections by prohibiting companies that use facial recognition technology from collecting and resharing data for identifying or tracking consumers without their consent. Illinois made it illegal to collect biometric data without consent in 2008.
These legislative actions along with the heightened sensitivity to privacy resulting from the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation in Europe may prove to be problematic for retailers, including Walmart and Walgreens, that are actively experimenting with facial recognition technologies.
Walmart has been testing facial recognition to improve customer service by trying to recognize if a shopper is “unhappy”. If that determination is made, then customer service can intervene and turn a bad customer experience into a good one — so the theory goes.
Walgreens is testing sensors that detect shoppers and cameras that scan their faces to estimate their gender and approximate age for delivering targeted messages on their experimental soft drink coolers outfitted with digital displays.
While many retailers experimenting with facial recognition insist they are not storing facial images or using them for any purpose except to help deliver a better shopping experience, many questions remain. How are facial images stored? Who has access to them? Are shoppers notified in advance? Can shoppers opt out?
Notwithstanding all the interesting ways facial recognition could be used by retailers and regardless of how well intended they may be, it’s still mostly uncharted territory, with serious potential pitfalls retailers should be wary of.
- San Francisco becomes the first US city to ban facial recognition by government agencies – The Verge
- Thousands Of Stores Will Soon Use Facial Recognition, And They Won’t Need Your Consent – BuzzFeed
- Will facial recognition tech make for happier customers at Walmart? – RetailWire
- Walgreens tests tech that sort of recognizes you in-store – RetailWire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Are the benefits of facial recognition technology more trouble than they are worth for retailers? Do you think that legislation will be passed within the next five years regulating how businesses, including retailers, use facial recognition technologies?