Retailers in Australia are facing an urgent and increasing problem with theft. The Australian National Retail Association estimates casual theft to have been responsible for industry losses of around $9 billion just last year – and with only an estimated 20 per cent of incidents recorded, the problem could be much larger in scale.
With a correspondingly high incidence of assault and violence reported in retail stores, protecting the safety of staff and customers is just as much of an issue as the lost revenues.
The use of facial recognition technology to combat crime may seem like a dystopian solution to some, but for many Australian retailers, it’s a strategy that’s working. What’s more, modern face-recognition systems hardly resemble the kind of authoritarian overreach some might imagine, instead providing an additional layer of security that store owners can use to deny known repeat offenders the opportunity to commit further crimes. By measuring the facial characteristics of store visitors (and not, as is popularly believed, storing visual images of innocent shoppers and children) the software is able to determine when a person of suspicion is on the premises and alert security staff to pay attention. It’s a simple, elegant and highly accurate approach that is protecting retailers from losses without crossing over into ethical grey areas.
“Facial recognition works in real-time, and it’s only looking for people whom store owners have enrolled in their secure, on-site database,” says Simon Herron, CEO of Brisbane-based video analytics and facial recognition firm Vix Vizion. “We’re providing an alert to the retailer’s security staff to say, ‘we think somebody you should be aware of is entering your store, you can now take that information and decide what to do with it’. We’re not the police, we’re not telling them what to do. The benefit of that over just having a security force is that our system is watching all the screens all the time. We’re providing fast, accurate information that customers can then decide how to act upon.”
Vix Vizion’s system works by analysing the characteristics of any faces appearing on a security video stream, rendering short fragments of metadata that are then compared to analytics of faces stored on the store’s database of known offenders. That metadata cannot be used to reconstruct an individual’s face, but it’s enough to register a match and trigger an alert for a security response.
“One of the problems we have in Australia now is that there are organised syndicates of thieves that go to various stores, systematically taking particular goods,” says Herron. “They eventually become known, and it’s typically those people who are getting enrolled into the databases. These databases are secured, access restricted, and all the data in there is encrypted, whether in transit or at rest. All of this information can be set up so that it is discarded immediately or stored for a period of time – that’s really up to the operator and what they want to do with it. The system is built according to both security and privacy principles.”
Databases are stored locally so the system can work even without an internet connection, as well as for security reasons. Vix Vizion also installs distributed systems for retailers with several locations when needed, allowing a central security room to be able to receive alerts from any store and manage reporting data across multiple stores. In either of these use cases, criminals are deterred from entering stores that have deployed facial recognition technology, preventing the occurrence of crime even without the need for the engagement of a security team. In deftly addressing the fine line between security and privacy, Vix Vizion is providing an accurate, ethical and safe solution to the problem of theft that is designed to protect Australian retailers without causing unintentional harm to any party.
“We’ve built this technology around the need to do good,” says Herron. “Our investors are of similar mind. We have a team of specialists who have developed this technology in Australia, so we’re not outsourcing or buying the technology from anywhere else and we’re supporting local businesses. When customers examine our system, it’s very easy to see how the different tools can be managed in the way I’ve described – the customer is in control of the database, and while we can help configure and support their system, we don’t have access to the data. The retailer is in control of the system, they own the data and they host it, so they can have confidence in our system by seeing how it works directly and by virtue of the fact that they are in control of it themselves.”
For more information about Vix Vizion, visit https://www.vixvizion.com.