The use of facial recognition technology by retailers to combat petty crimes is sparking criticism from privacy rights campaigners. Facewatch is a British company that provides retailers with access to this technology. Facewatch’s software compares faces of people who enter a store using facial recognition against a ‘watchlist’. But little is known about how many people are on these watchlists or even how the appeal process works.
Many people feel distressed by facial recognition technology. For instance, a woman buying milk in Bristol was flagged by Facewatch for allegedly shoplifting. Facewatch informed her that she was mistakenly identified by the software. Upon reviewing records, the company found that the woman had been added to the watchlist because of an incident concerning 20 pounds worth shopping. The woman was not contacted by Facewatch or the store after the incident for further inquiry.
Commenting on this, Big Brother Watch’s legal and policy officer Madeleine Stone said Facewatch was “normalizing airport-style security checks for everyday activities like buying a pint of milk.”