business news in context, analysis with attitude

The New York Times this morning has a story about the increased use of facial recognition technology by British retailers.

Here's how the Times frames the story:

"Simon Mackenzie, a security officer at the discount retailer QD Stores outside London, was short of breath. He had just chased after three shoplifters who had taken off with several packages of laundry soap. Before the police arrived, he sat at a back-room desk to do something important: Capture the culprits’ faces.

"On an aging desktop computer, he pulled up security camera footage, pausing to zoom in and save a photo of each thief. He then logged in to a facial recognition program, Facewatch, which his store uses to identify shoplifters.

"The next time those people enter any shop within a few miles that uses Facewatch, store staff will receive an alert.  'It’s like having somebody with you saying, ‘That person you bagged last week just came back in,' Mr. Mackenzie said.

"Use of facial recognition technology by the police has been heavily scrutinized in recent years, but its application by private businesses has received less attention. Now, as the technology improves and its cost falls, the systems are reaching further into people’s lives. No longer just the purview of government agencies, facial recognition is increasingly being deployed to identify shoplifters, problematic customers and legal adversaries.

"Facewatch, a British company, is used by retailers across the country frustrated by petty crime. For as little as 250 pounds a month, or roughly $320, Facewatch offers access to a customized watchlist that stores near one another share. When Facewatch spots a flagged face, an alert is sent to a smartphone at the shop, where employees decide whether to keep a close eye on the person or ask the person to leave."

The Times notes that "facial recognition technology is proliferating as Western countries grapple with advances brought on by artificial intelligence. The European Union is drafting rules that would ban many of facial recognition’s uses, while Eric Adams, the mayor of New York City, has encouraged retailers to try the technology to fight crime. MSG Entertainment, the owner of Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall, has used automated facial recognition to refuse entry to lawyers whose firms have sued the company."

KC's View:

I do think this is problematic technology, and users have to understand that they may be embroiled in controversies that they cannot control.

It is going to be extremely important to make sure that the tech remains color blind - that it isn't predictive, but rather reactive - it identifies specific people who steal so they can't do it again.  Key to that will mean not just banning people from stores, but arresting and charging them with crimes when the proof of their crime is on tape.