Choice revealed last week that Australian retailers are using facial recognition technology in a variety of stores. The government is facing a renewed call to action, to create guidelines after the article’s release.


The Choice publication reveals that Kmart, Bunnings, and The Good Guys use it in select stores to monitor theft. The main issue is the fact that 76% of Australians didn’t know their faces are analysed whilst they are shopping.

Both the Bunnings COO, Simon McDowell, and a representative from the Good Guys defend themselves. They say that the technology exists only for security reasons. They acknowledge its use in their entrance signage and on their website.

The Expert Take On It

Mark Andrejevic, a Media Studies Professor at Monash University, says: “The first concern is notice and consent, it’s not in highly visible forms of public notification that would invite people to understand what’s taking place.”

He also mentions another main issue, that there aren’t any guidelines and regulations for the use of this technology. He explains that: “Stores may be using it for the purposes of security now, but down the road, they may also include terms of use that would say that they can use it for marketing purposes.”

Peter Lewis, the director of the Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology, adds: “It’s not good enough for a business to say that it is implementing this technology to crack down on theft without the public knowing the way the data is being collected, how it’s being stored, what it’s being used for, and whether it’s being sold on to other parties… We need comprehensive privacy law reform and a pause on implementation of this potentially harmful and invasive technology.”

Global Guidelines

Credit: Junkee

In Australia, there are no dedicated laws about the use of facial recognition. Only some protections under privacy laws, according to ABC News. Some U.S. cities like San Francisco have entirely banned such technology on police and city technology. Edward Santow, a UTS professor and former Human Rights Commissioner, says that he believes Australia should follow in the footsteps of the EU with a “nuanced approach”. This can prohibit harmful use of the technology while still allowing low-risk use by increasing privacy protections.

A Few More Issues

There is a whole ethical debate about analysing people’s emotions. Shops want to track how the customer reacts to a product using facial recognition. These facial recognition technologies have a relatively low success rate, however. London’s Metropolitan Police didn’t correctly identify 96% of the people scanned as suspects.

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