Retailers are testing facial-recognition technology to help them catch store thieves, but not all are willing to go on the record about it, Fortune reports.
Wal-Mart, for example, earlier this year tested a system that scans the face of every person who enters a store and alerts security if the person is identified as a known shoplifter. The retailer said the system didn’t have an adequate return on investment.
Facial recognition technology has improved to the point of being more consistently accurate, but consumers don’t like their faces being scanned without their permission, and in some cases have sued companies that identify them that way.
Companies like Face First and NEC Corporation are tailoring their facial recognition services, long a mainstay in law enforcement and border patrol, to an increasing number of retailers.
They say the technology, which is getting more accurate and presumably more affordable as well, is useful in catching known shoplifters as well as in spotting a big spender, loyal customer, or celebrity customer.
But many customers aren’t happy with the idea, and have gone as far as suing companies over the matter, including Facebook, for invading their privacy and failing to get consent. And many privacy advocates say offering an opt-out provision isn’t adequate.
“Facebook isn’t getting permission,” Alvaro Bedoya, executive director of Georgetown University’s Center on Privacy & Technology, told the Insurance Journal. “Facial recognition is one of those categories of data where a very prominent and a very clear consent is necessary.”
Wal-Mart, one of the few retailers who would go on the record as having tested the tech, told Fortune that the system didn’t have the ROI, but wouldn’t discuss the privacy implications of using the system.
Those privacy implications could extend to legal ones; it may be difficult to prosecute a shoplifter based on the fairly untested, unofficial, and potentially rights-infringing tech.
Reaching any consensus on the area’s untested, undefined boundaries was undermined earlier this year when civil liberties and consumer advocates, including Georgetown’s Bedoya, left talks held at the White House over what they said was business interests’ refusal to compromise.
As far as noticing a retailer’s most loyal shoppers? That could be done by savvy store associates even without the assistance of legally untested privacy-invading technology.