Retail NZ backs facial recognition trial, despite privacy concerns

Foodstuffs trials facial-recognition tech in stores as crime surges
(Source: Supplied)

Retail NZ has expressed support for Foodstuffs North Island’s facial recognition technology trial, which aims to reduce retail crime.

The trial is being implemented in up to 25 North Island stores and is currently intended to run for up to six months.

“Retail NZ members are facing increasing rates of crime, putting both their employees and the public at risk, as well as threatening the financial sustainability of retail businesses,” said Retail NZ CEO Carolyn Young.

“The outcomes of this innovative trial will be of enormous interest to retailers across the Motu.”

The lobby group noted last October that retail crime alone cost its members over $2.6 billion.

Foodstuffs North Island said it decided to launch the trial following 4719 retail crime incidents across its stores in the last quarter of last year.

These incidents include stabbing, punching, kicking, biting, and spitting on supermarket workers.

“Everyone has the right to a safe working environment and a safe place to buy their groceries,” said Foodstuffs North Island CEO Chris Quin.

However, the trial faces privacy concerns due to the collection of shoppers’ biometric information.

Privacy Commissioner Michael Webster said he would “closely monitor” the technology.

Webster also flagged the technology’s potential failures such as false matching of individuals especially women of colour.

“I am particularly worried about what this means for Maori, Pasifika, Indian, and Asian shoppers especially as the software is not trained on New Zealand’s population,” said Webster.

“I don’t want to see people incorrectly banned from their local supermarket and falsely accused.”

The commissioner also noted that the franchise nature of Foodstuffs North Island, which means that the individual owners of the stores are responsible for the collection and use of the data, is another thing to closely monitor.

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