A startling new feature spotted at an Aldi store in Sydney has shoppers proposing sinister theories online as to what the technology may be used for.
A photo of the self-serve checkout at the Oxford Village Centre store was shared on Reddit on Tuesday and shows a large, "high definition" camera and monitoring screen overhead, which says "monitoring in progress". The cameras had some suggesting facial recognition is now being used in Aldi stores.
The new addition has sparked a wave of privacy and surveillance concerns. "Wonder what the laws are around storing and using facial recognition in stores," the poster expressed alongside the image.
Theories about Aldi's new tech emerge
Others suggested the tech is likely "more of a visual deterrent" to help weed out shoplifters.
"I believe they're using the technology that recognises instances of self-serve theft to develop a nationwide database of profiles of serial shoplifters to use in conjunction with facial recognition throughout the store," one person suggested, noting this tech appears different to that used at Coles and Woolworths which detects when items haven't scanned.
Aldi responds to facial recognition claim
Aldi has shut down such theories and told Yahoo News it does not currently use facial recognition or AI technology in its stores.
In a statement to Yahoo News, a spokesperson for Aldi said CCTV ensures the safety of customers and employees and it's also used "to monitor for theft", they said.
"We are trialling a variety of new CCTV technologies across a select number of stores which are in line with all relevant surveillance laws," the spokesperson said. It's understood a sign is displayed in all stores when customers enter informing them that CCTV surveillance is in operation.
Controversial face recognition tech called out
Surveillance in supermarkets is not new and has been rolled out in various forms across Coles, Woolworths and other large independent stores. But face recognition tech has been heavily criticised in the past. Last year, an investigation by consumer watchdog CHOICE revealed Kmart, Bunnings and The Good Guys were using the problematic technology on unsuspecting customers, which is a "completely inappropriate and unnecessary use of the technology", consumer data advocate Kate Bower said.
CHOICE claimed the commercial use of facial recognition poses potential issues to people, such as privacy breaches, identity fraud, data theft and unethical use.
In June last year, Woolworths adamantly dismissed claims it used face recognition in its stores after a screenshot of a training module circulated online, claiming Woolworths uses "facial mapping to identify thieves".
A spokesperson for Woolworths confirmed to Yahoo News Australia it was an innocent mistake made by poor wording and was quickly rectified.
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