Is facial recognition a viable solution for reducing shoplifting?

Discussion
May 10, 2017

As identification accuracy improves and costs come down, more stores are installing facial recognition security cameras to reduce shoplifting, according to a report from Loss Prevention Media. But their use is largely being kept a secret from shoppers.

Commonly, the way the process works, stores enroll known shoplifters into a database. Shoplifters who are caught often readily agree to have their face scanned to avoid being prosecuted. A national database is in the works, which will be used to alert loss prevention personnel within seconds of a known shoplifter entering a store. Authorized staff can then tell the shoplifter they’ve been banned from the location.

A report from NBC Los Angeles indicated that the technology has been proven to reduce shoplifting by 25 percent. For store staff, quick detection also reduces the time spent following potential shoplifters around the store as well as detaining and processing them if caught stealing.

While the legal implications of facial recognition haven’t been fully vetted, stores tend to keep the system invisible to shoppers due to privacy concerns.

“We shouldn’t be having the equivalent of our fingerprint being taken without our consent. It’s not right,” Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum, told NBC Los Angeles last December.

Privacy concerns about facial recognition are perhaps more widely heard in reference to potential marketing applications. The technology promises to identify and reward loyal customers as well as track what individuals may have looked at but didn’t buy while shopping in stores.

Security advocates point to facial recognition technology already being widely used by casinos, the military and law enforcement. Moreover, because retailers keep scanned images only of identified shoplifters, shopper’s privacy is not invaded.

Jennifer Lynch, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an international digital rights organization, told Loss Prevention Media, “A system that is designed to look only for people who have been convicted of shoplifting in the past is not going to be a threat to privacy for the vast majority of shoppers.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you think facial recognition when used to deter shoplifting raises the same privacy issues as those related to in-store marketing? Should stores reveal to shoppers that they are employing the technology for security purposes?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Then use of the images to prevent loss is fair. But re-using the images for marketing/research is pushing the limits."
"I think it’s worse than in-store marketing. It’s a form of profiling that is pretty much illegal. "
"Our current expectation is that [security cameras] are being used to prevent theft, not to monitor our shopping behavior."

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19 Comments on "Is facial recognition a viable solution for reducing shoplifting?"


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Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

Facial recognition is and continues to evolve into one of the most effective tools against shoplifting. I believe that retailers should disclose the use of facial recognition for this purpose and I suspect that most shoppers would be agreeable to retailers using it for this purpose. However, it becomes an entirely different matter in the hands of marketers or under the guise of better customer service. Facial data is personal data and any capture or use of personal data — regardless of the intent — must be disclosed to shoppers.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

You could not have expressed this any better!

David Livingston
Guest
4 years 4 months ago

I agree completely although some might say it will be a life sentence for first-time and only-time offenders.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

I think it’s worse than in-store marketing. It’s a form of profiling that is pretty much illegal. Stores had better say something, although how they would explain it is a bit beyond me. “We’re checking your face and if you look suspicious, we’re going to follow you … but there’s good news! If you pass the test, we’ll give you a special promotion.”

Sorry … it’s a bridge too far all the way around.

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

An individual who has agreed to have their picture taken to avoid prosecution has given up the right to privacy. However, the scope of forfeiture of that right is limited to the use of their likeness for that one purpose. I would be concerned if their pictures were used for other reasons.

In my opinion that is very different from using the technology to monitor the shopping habits of individuals who did not give up that right. We all know that there are security cameras in stores. Our current expectation is that they are being used to prevent theft not to monitor our shopping behavior. Once a retailer begins to use facial recognition for marketing purpose without the consent of the shopper they have crossed the line.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

The key is to tell the shoppers you are doing it. First, it will chase away the shoplifters. Second, if the shopper doesn’t like the idea they can go to another store. This is totally different than using facial recognition for surreptitious marketing.

On a further note, facial recognition will become more and more ubiquitous. I can envision a day when all payments are made not with cash or credit card but with simple facial recognition.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
BrainTrust

Transparency is always important. When consumers find out after the fact that companies have done something objectionable, lost trust and credibility have a huge negative impact. With transparency, consumers can make choices about patronizing the retailer. If retailers are afraid that consumers will object to the practice, then they need to consider what will happen when consumers find out that the practice was being used without their knowledge.

Max Goldberg
Guest

Some privacy issues may be raised, but facial recognition will help retailers reduce shoplifting. If it’s solely being used to spot known shoplifters, retailers should not have to divulge the technology to consumers. If retailers are also using facial recognition to identify loyal shoppers, consumers should know.

Mohamed Amer
BrainTrust
Mohamed Amer
Independent Board Member, Investor and Startup Advisor
4 years 4 months ago

The reduction of shoplifting in stores is a legitimate use case for facial recognition technology. The challenge is that in order to apply it, you need to capture all the faces of those entering a store. Shoppers have come to expect that video cameras do capture their entry into stores (and some place screens near the entrances to emphasize that point) but that doesn’t mean they have connected the dots to doing “fingerprinting” of their faces.

Think of it this way, if you are arrested or apply to certain federal jobs, your fingerprints are collected and stored in a database and you are made fully aware of this. The trigger in those cases reflects some loss of individual rights (privacy), either forced or voluntary. In the store scenario, there is no explicit acceptance by the shopper on collection (and potential storage) of their face scans. Again, the need to reduce shoplifting is legitimate, but how we address it is equally important.

Al McClain
Staff

It’s an invasion of privacy. Alleged shoplifters agree to have their faces scanned in order to avoid prosecution, so they have probably been scared into the system, without access to an attorney. What about minors or perhaps an 18 year-old who makes an adolescent mistake? We seem to be headed inevitably into the area of taking away people’s rights whenever it serves the interest of the more powerful.

Anne Howe
Guest

Transparency to the shopper of camera policies is the first “must-do” in my opinion. Then use of the images to prevent loss is fair. But re-using the images for marketing/research is pushing the limits.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust
Ricardo Belmar
Retail Transformation Thought Leader, Advisor, & Strategist
4 years 4 months ago

Let’s think this through. Shoppers are pretty aware that stores will have security cameras. This is not a mystery to anyone. However, there is an implied anonymity in the process from the shopper’s perspective. If retailers are to used these images to explicitly identify known shoplifters, then they should be transparent about it and tell all their customers they are doing it. Since the majority of shoppers are not shoplifters it’s hard to imagine them revolting against a retailer that clearly defines this usage. Clearly stating it will also act as a deterrent to shoplifters.

Using these images for in-store marketing purposes is another matter. While retailers should still be transparent about this, customers will want the option to be excluded from this practice. Whether this is an opt-in or an opt-out process is up to the retailer, but they should have a good understanding of their customer demographics to know beforehand which approach is best for their customers.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest

Well, let’s see, Tom Cruise in “Minority Report” was retina-scanned to identify him as a loyal shopper. Shoppers would certainly opt in to something like this in today’s reality if offered the right promotional incentives. Why can’t the same technology be used to deter loss and keep prices lower for legitimate shoppers? See! I just created the advertising pitch for the stuff!

Laura Davis-Taylor
BrainTrust
Laura Davis-Taylor
Founder, Branded Ground
4 years 4 months ago

I have been working with gaze tracking technology in live stores (on a small-test basis) for years. Before we did it, we ensured that there was NO WAY to link the person to their personal unique ID. That was the critical piece. We also worked with POPAI, the World Privacy Forum and a slew of attorneys to create standards for use — and the key recommendation was disclosure. We refer to this kind of tracking as “Observed Tracking Data” and the group feedback seems fairly united in their notification recommendations. But this is a whole new ballgame. We need to tread carefully.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

Effective isn’t the same thing as good policy. Yes, facial recognition can reduce shoplifting. And, yes, transparency is critical. But take it one step further. Look at all the problems shrink control policies create today in terms of real or alleged racial profiling, etc. If you are profiling one type of customer and you catch them and they submit to a facial recognition system do you run the risk of amassing a visual record of discrimination? I think so. Also turning a system designed to catch bag guys and girls into a marketing tool will raise howls of protests from consumer advocates and civil libertarians. And … what happens when those fail recognition files get hacked? As they say, careful what you ask for, you just might get it.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest

Casinos, law enforcement and the military are trained professionals in the field of crime and facial recognition. There is no way retailers are qualified or trained in this field. It would come close to requiring a complete new department with trained professionals at each location. Facial recognition, while not new, is still in the developmental stages and not nearly ready for the untrained retail staff.

As for the marketing piece, this almost sounds like a joke. Paula described it well; I will follow you to make sure you don’t steal from me. And if you don’t, I will give you a special promotion to come back when I will follow you again while you are buying whatever I offered.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

Expectations about privacy keep changing. Twenty years ago, if someone had told you that you’d willingly purchase a listening device that was always on, you’d have laughed. Now we’re talking about snapping pictures of customers in the store. If it’s used to fight shoplifting, I could be persuaded to support it, but the average customer would have a COW if they knew they were being monitored in this way.

gordon arnold
Guest

It is not for us to decide if this is an infringement and/or wrongful process. This will no doubt be decided over and over again in the court system(s). Jumping into risky corporate policies and procedures without the support and indemnification of the technology providers needs to be put aside for more practical and safer career suicidal decisions that will minimize the damage.

RAM SHANKER G
Guest
3 years 4 months ago

I think privacy is unquestionably a priority when it involves faces being stored as information. At the same time it’s vital to stop crimes. Facial recognition may be a great technology for that. We’ve seen its importance in a project we did. It showed great variations in risk of security threats. Thus I feel that facial recognition ought to be introduced within the retail sector.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Then use of the images to prevent loss is fair. But re-using the images for marketing/research is pushing the limits."
"I think it’s worse than in-store marketing. It’s a form of profiling that is pretty much illegal. "
"Our current expectation is that [security cameras] are being used to prevent theft, not to monitor our shopping behavior."

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