Tech

From Macy’s to Albertsons, facial recognition is already everywhere

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Some of the most famous stores in the United States – including Macy’s and Albertsons – use facial recognition for their clients, largely without their knowledge, according to nonprofit digital rights Fight the Future.

On July 14, Fight for the Future helped launch one national campaign to document which of the country’s largest retailers are implementing facial recognition, and which are committed to not using the technology. The campaign, which has the support of more than 35 human rights groups, aims to draw attention to retail businesses with facial scanning algorithms to increase their profits, intensify security systems, and even track their employees.

The campaign comes as a clear reminder that the scope of facial recognition goes well beyond law enforcement and into the private and commercial shop windows we visit regularly. Experts warn that facial recognition in these areas is particularly worrying because the technology is largely unregulated and undisclosed, meaning that customers and employees may be unaware that this software monitors and collects data about them.

“A lot of people will probably be surprised to know how many retailers they buy on a regular basis use this technology in a variety of ways to protect their profits and even maximize their profits,” said Caitlin Seeley George, a campaign director at Fight for the Future, Recode said.

While you may not have heard of it before, stores that use facial recognition are not a new practice. Last year, Reuters reported that the drug chain Rite Aid had implemented facial recognition in at least 200 stores for nearly a decade (before the company suddenly committed to abandoning the software). In fact, facial recognition is just one of the many technologies that store chains are implementing to enrich their security systems, or to otherwise monitor customers. Some retailers, for example, have used apps and in-store wifi to track users as they move around in physical stores and later target them with online ads.

A handful of popular boutiques, including Albertsons and Macy’s food chain, already use facial recognition, according to Fight for the Future. database. How exactly do these sellers use it facial recognition may be clear, since companies are usually not anticipated.

At the same time, a growing number of technology startups and security companies are looking for opportunities to sell this software to businesses. Some of these vendors are already notorious, such as Clearview AI, the controversial startup that has scrapped billions of images of people from social media. But there are many other facial recognitions suppliers which have attracted less attention, as companies have AnyVision, who announced that he had raised $ 235 million just last week.

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Magazines embrace facial recognition technology because, they say, it can help prevent thefts. But experts warn that this technology is alarming. Customers rarely know that this technology is used, leaving them without the opportunity to say no or remove it from the watch list based on a store’s facial recognition. At the same time, facial recognition algorithms can be inaccurate, and come with integrated racial and gender bias. In 2019, Apple was cited in the case by a New York University student who claims that the company uses facial recognition technology for security purposes and that it has linked it inaccurately to several thefts Apple stores that he is not engaged.

“We’re really concerned about how retail employees who use facial recognition are affected in large part because they don’t really have an option to give up if they get to a point where people can get their work done and be under surveillance or not. not having a job, ”George, of Fight for the Future, told Recode. Customers living in areas where there are few options for businesses may also end up being forced to accept the technology, he added.

One of the main challenges is that facial recognition is largely unregulated, and many current efforts to strengthen the technology focus primarily on its use by the government and law enforcement. “Laws are so different that it would probably be impossible to write a clean bill, clearly understanding that rules both the consumer and the government,” Brian Hofer, who helped bring the prohibition of facial recognition in San Francisco, he told Recode last year.

But there have been attempts to regulate this technology, even when it is used privately. In 2019, Lowe’s and Home Depot were cited for using facial recognition in violation of Illinois biometric privacy law, one of the strongest laws in the country. Just this month, a New York law finally it came into force requiring businesses and companies to tell customers when they are collecting their biometric data. And this week, the commission overseeing the Port of Seattle voted to ban biometric technology from its ease.

While members of Congress have come up with several ideas to give customers more protection against the use of facial recognitions by private companies, there has also been significant regulation at the federal level. “In the vast majority of cities and towns, there are no rules on when private companies can use surveillance technology, and when they can share information with the police, ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement], or even private announcements, ”warns Albert Fox Cahn, the executive director of the Surveillance Technology Supervision Project.

Meanwhile, Fight for the Future is moving forward with its plan to call companies that already use the technology. The group also collects information on competing businesses that do not use facial recognition, so people can have the option to avoid this surveillance if they wish.


Correction, July 19, 2021: An earlier version of this story said that Ace Hardware uses facial recognition. Ace Hardware said in a statement that the specific location of the Fight for the Future magazine cited in its database does not use the technology. Ace Hardware has not clarified whether any other retail locations use this technology. Fight for the Future has recently updated its database.


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