You’re not only getting your groceries scanned when you shop at some Foodstuffs North Island supermarkets – the shop may also be scanning your face, Consumer NZ says.
The organisation says Foodstuffs North Island is the only major retailer in New Zealand using facial recognition technology on its customers.
Foodstuffs, which owns Pak ’n Save, New World and Four Square, says 29 of its North Island stores used facial recognition technology (FRT).
It says it’s justified as a crime prevention measure to help keep its staff and customers safe.
FRT involves the identification of a person based on an analysis of their facial features.
Artificial intelligence programmes identify and map facial features to create a face print, which is compared to those on a database to find a match.
Duffy says Consumer is “seriously concerned” New Zealander shoppers are having their biometric information collected and analysed.
“These shoppers may not know it is happening or understand the potential consequences of their data being collected in this way.”
A Foodstuffs spokesperson says, after a 31 per cent increase in the rates of theft, burglary, robbery, assault and other aggressive, violent and threatening behaviour across its stores, Foodstuffs North Island was undertaking a trial of facial recognition technology at some stores to help keep its staff and customers safe.
“The privacy of our customers is a major priority and Foodstuffs North Island has been directly consulting with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner on the appropriate use of the tech and our trial,” she says.
It has participated in the Office of the Privacy Commissioner’s consultation on the regulation of biometrics, including facial recognition in NZ.
Any store using, or trialling, facial recognition technology would have that signposted at the entrance of the store.
“Sensitive information is not being shared or stored,” she says.
“FRT info is not used for any other purpose than preventing crime and is definitely not linked to marketing.”
Jon says based on Consumer’s inquiries, no other major retailers used FRT at present.
“We question whether the collection of customers’ biometric data is proportionate to the risk Foodstuffs is trying to address,” he says.
In 2018 the Otago Daily Times revealed the technology had been quietly introduced.
In August 2020, New World Papakura hit headlines when customers were asked to remove their masks to enable their faces to be captured by FRT.
At the moment, the only way for a consumer to know whether their biometric data had been collected by Foodstuffs was to make a request for that data under the Privacy Act.
If consumers are concerned about these practises, they should request any information Foodstuffs North Island held directly from the company, says Jon.
Concerns about the unethical use of FRT have recently been echoed across the ditch by Consumer’s sister organisation Choice.
Choice’s investigation into retailers’ use of FRT resulted in Kmart, Bunnings and The Good Guys all pausing use of this technology in stores.
When previously asked by Stuff in June, both Kmart and Bunnings NZ said FRT was not used in its New Zealand stores.
Choice found that in Australia, three out of four people were in favour of regulation to protect consumers from harm caused by the use of FRT in retail settings, while back in New Zealand, recent research by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner found 49 per cent of adults in New Zealand, increasing to 51 per cent of Māori adults, were concerned about the use of FRT in public spaces.
“Shoppers deserve to know if their images are being captured as they go about their shopping,” says Jon.
“We know consumers have limited choice where they shop. Consumer NZ questions the validity of using this technology at an essential shopping outlet, like a supermarket.”
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