NZ regulator begins grocery facial recognition technology trial

New Zealand’s privacy commissioner Michael Webster has begun looking into Foodstuffs North Island’s trial of facial recognition technology (FRT) to make sure it complies with the Privacy Act.

Foodstuffs announced in early February it was piloting the technology at 25 New World and Pak’nSave supermarkets in a bid to fight against retail crime. The trial, set to last about six months, aims to better identify repeat offenders and thereby reduce harmful behaviour in store.

Webster said the trial raises significant privacy risks and that his inquiry will monitor the way stores apply the technology to ensure compliance with the Privacy Act.

The commissioner will focus on several factors including the privacy and data protection safeguards, staff training, and whether any bias or accuracy issues are occurring.

“At the end of the six-month trial I will be assessing the evidence that the use of FRT is justified,” he said. “Has it made a practical and statistically significant difference to the incidence of retail crime in Foodstuffs North Island supermarkets relative to other less intrusive options?”

Currently, there is no other known use of facial recognition technology in the retail sector in New Zealand, according to the commissioner.

Further reading: ‘Not satisfied’: Commerce Commission talks tough on Foodstuffs merger

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