Facing up: Choice reveals retailers scanning customer ‘faceprints’ on entry

(Source: Bigstock)

Major Australian retailers use ‘invasive’ technologies to capture customers’ sensitive biometric data according to consumer rights group Choice.

Among the 25 retailers surveyed, Kmart, The Good Guys and Bunnings were found to use facial recognition technology to identify customers who enter stores.

Kate Bower, a Choice consumer data advocate, described the use of facial recognition technology by the retailers as “inappropriate and unnecessary” 

While she acknowledged that the retailers in question had displayed “discreet signs” at the entrance of stores where the controversial technology was in use, consumers remained unaware.

“We found 76 per cent of Australians aren’t aware retailers are capturing their unique facial features in this way,

“Businesses using invasive technologies to capture their customers’ sensitive biometric information is unethical and is a sure way to erode consumer trust,” she said.

“With the government currently undergoing a review of the Privacy Act, now is the perfect time to strengthen measures around the capture and use of consumer data, including biometric data.” 

Additionally, the nationally representative survey revealed more than 83 per cent of customers agreed retailers must tell customers such technologies are in use, while 78 per cent were concerned about how their biometric data might be used. 

The consumer group has called on the federal government to implement a modern regulatory framework to protect consumers while also urging the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) to investigate potential privacy breaches.

Bunnings’ COO Simon McDowell said the company was disappointed by Choice’s “inaccurate characterisation” of its use of facial recognition technology in selected stores. “This technology is used solely to keep the team and customers safe and prevent unlawful activity in our stores, which is consistent with the Privacy Act.

“In recent years, we’ve seen an increase in the number of challenging interactions our team have had to handle in our stores and this technology is an important tool in helping us to prevent repeat abuse and threatening behaviour towards our team and customers.”

He added that strict controls are in place around the use of this technology and no information is used for marketing or consumer behaviour tracking and the images of children are never enrolled.

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