Bannings temporarily disables facial recognition technology

Hardware giant Bunnings has disabled the use of facial recognition technology in its stores amid an investigation by the national privacy watchdog into how the retailer is using it.

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) ​​confirmed earlier this month that it had launched an investigation into how Bunnings and Kmart retailers handle customer personal information.

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

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

Facial recognition uses video cameras to analyze images and capture each person’s unique facial features, known as a facial print. But a Choice study found that 76% of Australians were unaware that retailers were doing so, despite the fact that there were signs posted in front of stores to the effect.

Earlier this year, Bunnings temporarily disabled the technology in its stores in preparation for the transition to the new platform.

“Given that an investigation is underway, we will not be using it for the time being,” Bunnings managing director Mike Schneider said Monday.

Mr. Schneider said his employees have seen a “significant increase” in threatening incidents, and facial recognition has given the retailer the ability to determine when banned shoppers are arriving so staff can get support before the situation escalates.

“To be absolutely clear, an image of a person is only stored in the system if it is already in the database of persons who are banned or associated with crime in our stores,” he said.

“We don’t use it for marketing or tracking customer behavior, and we certainly don’t use it to identify repeat customers who walk into our stores, as Choice suggests.

“When we have customers berating our team, drawing weapons, spitting or hitting, we ban them from our stores. But a ban is not effective if it is difficult to enforce,” he said.

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.

Last year, the OAIC, which is an independent national privacy regulator, found that 7-Eleven interfered with customers’ privacy by collecting sensitive biometric information that is “not reasonably necessary for its functions and without proper notice or consent.”

Originally published as Bannings Temporarily Disables Facial Recognition Technology as Privacy Investigation Continues