Kmart and Bannings explore facial recognition technology

A privacy regulator is investigating two Australian retail giants over how they handle customer personal information.

The Australian Privacy Service is investigating Bannings and Kmart’s use of facial recognition technology.

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) ​​confirmed Tuesday that it has launched an investigation into the technology, focusing on how retail giants handle customers’ personal information.

The investigation follows a report by consumer advocacy group Choice about retailers’ use of facial recognition technology.

Choice analyzed privacy policies of 25 major retailers and found that Good Guys, Kmart and Bunnings were recording the biometric data of their customers.

Facial recognition uses video cameras to analyze images and capture each person’s unique facial features, known as facial prints.

But a Choice study found that 76% of Australians weren’t aware that retailers were doing so despite signing up at the door of stores.

Australian Information Commissioner and Privacy Commissioner Angelene Falk has also launched preliminary investigations into Good Guys Discount Warehouses (Australia) following reports that the company has suspended its use of facial recognition technology.

The OAIC, which is an independent national privacy regulator, said there would be no further comment while the investigation continues.

The Commissioner is empowered to investigate an act or practice that may constitute an invasion of an individual’s privacy or a violation of the Australian Privacy Principles under the Privacy Act 1988.

After the publication of the Choice study, Australians general anger, stigmatizing the use of advanced cameras and the collection of personal data as “creepy” and “disgusting”.

Some said they would stop shopping in stores as a result.

Last month, privacy commissioner Ms Falk said it was important that all retailers consider the privacy impact, community expectations and the need to comply with privacy laws when deciding whether to use technology to collect personal information.

“Privacy law generally requires retailers to collect sensitive biometric information only if it is reasonably necessary for their functions or activities and with their express consent,” she said.

“While preventing theft and creating a secure environment are important goals, the use of technology with a high level of privacy impact in stores comes with significant privacy risks.

“Retailers need to be able to demonstrate that collecting facial templates from all of their customers who come to their stores for this purpose is a proportionate response.”

In 2021, OAIC found that 7-Eleven interfered with customers’ privacy by collecting sensitive biometric information that is “not reasonably necessary for its features and without proper notice or consent.”

Originally published as Kmart and Bannings are investigating the use of facial recognition technology