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Foodstuffs North Island to Launch Facial Recognition Technology Trial in 25 Stores

Thursday 8 February 2024, 4:20AM

By Expert Briefing

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Foodstuffs North Island is to begin a trial of facial recognition technology (FRT) in 25 of its stores on 8 February, to assess whether the technology is an effective way of reducing retail crime.

New Zealand's privacy commissioner Michael Webster has raised concerns about the accuracy and bias of such software, and its effectiveness in reducing crime.

Webster said that the office would not endorse the technology's use without evidence of its effectiveness.

Foodstuffs North Island (FSNI) is proposing to use FRT to scan and make a biometric template of the face of everyone as they enter their supermarkets to see whether they match a "watchlist" of people who the supermarket has identified as engaging in repeat harmful behaviours. These harmful behaviours include shoplifting, verbally or physically assaulting staff or customers, breach of trespass, robbery or burglary.

Unmatched people’s images will be promptly deleted following feedback from OPC.

Action would be taken against "matched people". This could include banning or removing them from stores, monitoring them as they shop, or in some cases calling the Police.

Michael Webster says, "I will be looking for evidence after the six-month trial that the use of FRT has made a practical and statistically significant difference to the incidence of retail crime in Foodstuff North Island supermarkets relative to other less privacy intrusive options."

"New Zealanders deserve to shop for their milk and bread without having their faces scanned unless it’s really justified,"