Retailers called on to stop using facial recognition tech by civil rights groups

Civil rights organisations are calling on retailers to ditch facial recognition technology to screen shoppers over fears it can lead to abuses.

A coalition of over 35 organisations including National Lawyers Guild and Public Citizen have started a campaign to prevent companies including Albertsons and Macy’s using the tech, citing concerns over privacy and racial discrimination.

Facial recognition is used by retailers to screen employees and shoppers alike however it is surrounded by controversy over concerns of its efficacy.

Uber introduced its own “Real Time ID Check” technology with Uber Eats riders in April last year, which also required them to take selfies throughout the day to crosscheck against a photo stored in its database.

However, according to Wired, more than a dozen riders provided evidence that the technology failed to recognise their faces, with many branding it “racist”.

This led to a number of riders being wrongly threatened with termination, having their accounts frozen or being fired permanently from the platform.

In 2018 a similar version of the facial recognition software used by Uber, created by Microsoft, was found to have a 20.8 per cent failure rate for darker skinned female faces, and a six per cent failure rate for darker skinned male faces.

READ MORE: Alibaba’s facial recognition tech could be being used to identify Uighurs

“Companies say they offer facial recognition in the name of ‘convenience’ and ‘personalization,’ but their real priorities are protecting and predicting their profits, ignoring how they abuse peoples’ rights,” Fight for the Future campaign director Caitlin George told Bloomberg.

US lawmakers called for increased regulation on facial recognition tech during a House hearing on Tuesday, claiming the use could violate constitutional rights.

In December 2020, Southern Co-op quietly installed facial recognition technology from Facewatch, which scans the face of everyone entering the store to check them against a database of known suspects, across 18 of its stores.

The implementation of the tech prompted staunch backlash from civil rights groups concerned for shoppers’ privacy.

US retailer Lowe’s is being sued in the state of Illinois for its use of facial recognition tech, which it claims it may use video tracking “to enhance security, protect against theft and other crimes and to monitor in-store traffic patterns, customer counts and interests, and perform similar analytics.”

The Surveillance Technology Project executive director Albert Cahn added: “When we allow these private companies to transform our faces into a tracking tool, it’s not just giving the companies a lot of power to track us, it’s enabling them to fuel a lot of these nightmare policing scenarios.”

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