Facial recognition technology used by high-end retailers sparks concerns

Consumers likely expect some level of scrutiny in stores where retailers regularly use security cameras to deter theft. But concerns are being raised about the extent of surveillance in some higher-end stores, and what exactly is being done with the data.

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The American luxury department store chain Saks Fifth Avenue, which recently opened its first Canadian store in Toronto, is employing some of the world's most aggressive security and customer surveillance, according to a recent report in British newspaper The Guardian.

Privacy specialist Geoff White, counsel for the Public Interest Advocacy Centre in Ottawa, says the surveillance technology being used, which includes software that can recognize individual shoppers’ faces, poses a number of risks.

"There have been reports of these companies trying to develop profiles using facial recognition software, and also other sources of data about the individual, to try and develop a better sense of who they are to better serve them products and to convert them into more profitable customers," White told CTV's Canada AM on Tuesday.

Stores are collecting other forms of data too, including personal information when consumers access free in-store Wi-Fi, log in using social media accounts such as Facebook and Twitter.

"There's an information exchange there, and it raises questions about what sharing is happening and with whom," White said.

He said this degree of information gathering is expected when shopping online or through mobile apps on your smartphone.

"But in the physical retail space, though, I question how aware the average Canadian is about the level of surveillance that may be happening."

White also said this degree of surveillance can result in some shoppers being discriminated against or treated differently.


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