Supermarkets in New Zealand are using facial recognition technology to monitor customers

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Customers have had mixed reactions to the news that some supermarkets are using facial recognition technology to monitor their movements. While some said it was a bit scary, others said businesses had a right to protect their patch.

The owner of New World and Pak ‘n Save, Foodstuffs, has admitted it uses facial recognition technology in some of its stores to identify potential offenders.

Spokeswoman Antoinette Laird said theft was a growing problem.

“We use multiple strategies to protect our people, customers and product and we make no apology for this.

“Where CCTV (which may include facial recognition technology) is used in our stores, signage alerts customers to the fact images may be taken, as per privacy requirements.

“Footage can only be used for the purpose it is intended, which is as a deterrent and tool against theft and as a means of keeping customers and staff safe.”

Laird said Foodstuffs stores in the North Island were using a facial recognition tool with their CCTV.

“The system requires store security to identify the individual as trespassed from the store or as a person known to have shoplifted in our stores, and manually input the information into the system – they will then be picked up by the CCTV on future visits,” she said.

Shoppers spoken to in Wellington had a range of views.

Simon Button said it was not a surprise. He said it seemed to be part of the development of security technology. Another, Tom Roseingrave, said the supermarkets were just trying to protect their business.

But Dalinda Greyling said it was scary. “Having them watching your every move and knowing who you are… I don’t necessarily want people to know I’m wherever.”

Gary Morrison, chief executive of the New Zealand Security Association, said facial recognition technology was popular internationally and should be expected to become more widely adopted here.

As long as retailers met their obligations to adequately signal it was being used, it should not be a concern to consumers, he said. “If it’s not used properly, that’s an issue.”

Its reliability was improving all the time, he said. “You’re looking at fairly high levels of capability with it these days.”

Retail consultant Chris Wilkinson of ​First Retail Group said that people should expect CCTV cameras, particularly in places like banks, supermarkets and clothing stores, and that the video would probably be shared with other retailers and police.

“It will give a degree of discomfort to a lot of people, but the reality is, this is happening.”

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Safety outweighed concerns the public could have about surveillance, he said.

If shoppers had not done anything wrong, they should not worry about its use, Wilkinson said.

Commissioner John Edwards did not entirely agree.

“Any sort of facial recognition technology runs the risk of misidentifying people.”

Anyone using it should take that risk seriously, he said.

“Ask themselves what controls and processes can they put in place to minimise the risk. Don’t leave it up to automated systems alone. When it comes to identifying people accused of a crime, getting it wrong can have a severe impact on the person affected.”

Retail NZ spokesman Greg Harford said facial recognition was an increasingly common part of CCTV.

“One of its advantages is it often helps prevent innocent customers from being stopped by security teams,” he said.

“Retailers have to to take steps to try and combat crime. Retail crime is a massive issue across the sector, and has an estimated cost of just under $1 billion a year in losses – plus criminals are becoming increasingly brazen, aggressive and violent.”

Foodstuffs stores also use the Auror system, which does not include facial recognition services for any retailers.

This system captures images and license plate numbers and allows for data sharing, including with police.

A number of large retailers subscribe to Auror’s network.

Farmers, Briscoes and Mitre 10 are listed as clients on Auror’s website.

Wilkinson said Auror was a proactive response to an increase in the complexity of shoplifting. Shoplifters worked in groups and often travelled to target businesses in new areas, he said.

“The margins in retail are a lot tougher these days. [Auror] is a proactive way to avoid risk, both personal and commercial.”

A spokesperson for Countdown said it did not use facial recognition software.

“We do use the Auror reporting database, as this system is an effective way for us to communicate with the police regarding alleged retail crime. We can not give details as to the stores involved.”

This article was originally published by Stuff.co.nz. Read the original here.

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