Facial Recognition Tech Comes To Retail Stores

Julija A. Image
ByJulija A.
July 23,2021

The future is in your neighborhood: face-recognition technology is coming to retail stores if it’s not already there.

Since the pandemic started, facial recognition tech has been utilized in retail shops to scan workers’ and employees’ faces. The purpose of using face recognition is to prevent fraud, measure foot traffic, and offer contactless payments to customers.

The usage of the technology was met with disapproval by the advocacy groups that launched a campaign in order to stop stores from using facial recognition.

"Facial recognition vendors are taking advantage of the pandemic to promote the technology to offer hands-free payments or monitor the distance between people, and stores are promoting them as features for safety and convenience," said Caitlin Seeley George, Fight for the Future’s campaign director.

Many major retailers make ample use of this technology, including Apple Stores, Albertson’s, and Macy’s. According to the companies’ policies, the tech is used for security reasons and to prevent fraud. That being said, there are some big names on the advocacy group’s list that won’t use facial recognition tech. These include industry giants such as Walmart, CVS, and Verizon, for example.

Like identity theft products, facial recognition is primarily used for security reasons, without connecting faces to personal information, said Brenda Leong, Senior Counsel and Director for Artificial Intelligence and Ethics at the Future of Privacy Foundation.

Still, retailers found the tech beneficial for many reasons, such as faster identification of people who spend a lot of money at the store so that they can get easier and quicker access to loyalty perks.

The advanced tech also enabled JD and Alibaba to open stores where automated carts follow customers while payments are made with facial recognition support.

The idea is to improve customers’ experience, retailers say, not to use the system to capture and store photos to identify them.

However, in some states, biometric information, including that obtained through facial recognition, is protected by privacy laws. Portland, Oregon, is the first American city that banned the usage of facial recognition by the police, government, and retailers.

The technology is better accepted in places like amusement parks and stadiums, where it is used for detecting problematic guests, for example. In places like these, visitors can easily see the benefits of face recognition, so they are more likely to accept it.

In retail stores, however, things are different, and Brenda Leong is definitely not convinced: "If someone walks into a drug store and they can intuit that they are anxious or worried, are they going to try to market them a sleep aid?" she asks, adding that "some retailer could take advantage of someone’s emotional state without that person's knowledge”. According to her, this imbalance of power is the real problem behind the facial recognition tech.

About the author

Julia A. is a writer at SmallBizGenius.net. With experience in both finance and marketing industries, she enjoys staying up to date with the current economic affairs and writing opinion pieces on the state of small businesses in America. As an avid reader, she spends most of her time poring over history books, fantasy novels, and old classics. Tech, finance, and marketing are her passions, and she’s a frequent contributor at various small business blogs.

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