Kmart and Bunnings have temporarily switched off the use of facial recognition in their stores amid a probe by the nation’s privacy watchdog. The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) confirmed that an investigation had been opened, due to concerns of how the two retail companies were storing and handling customers’ biometric data.
What is facial recognition?
Facial recognition technology (FRT) is a technology capable of matching a human face from a digital image or video against a database of faces as a form of authentication. Bunnings and Kmart claim that they have set up video cameras throughout their stores to identify when banned customers enter the store, so staff could be supported before the situation escalated.
What is the issue?
The key issue with the implementation of FRT is that it’s being deployed without dedicated regulations and guidelines to its use. If a breach of the FRT database were to occur, the private data of millions of Australian shoppers could be compromised. Breaches related to facial recognition technology have already emerged in countries like China, where millions of people had their biometric data exposed online.
An investigation by the consumer advocates at CHOICE found that a large portion of customers weren’t even aware that FRT was being used in the stores that they shopped in. They attributed this to the inadequate signage used in stores, often hidden in hard-to-see areas, along with the limited publicity about the implementation of the technology.
The secretive implementation of FRT brings up the broader question of privacy and issues of consent within the Australian public, leaving significant concerns of the invasiveness of the technology and the safety of Australians’ private data.