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Kmart, Bunnings, The Good Guys using 'unethical' tech on shoppers

An investigation into Australia’s biggest and most trusted retailers has revealed Kmart, Bunnings and The Good Guys are using facial recognition technology on unsuspecting customers.

The investigation, led by consumer advocacy group CHOICE, asked 25 leading Australian retailers whether they used facial recognition technology and analysed their privacy policies.

Facial recognition analyses images from video cameras to capture each person’s unique facial features, known as a faceprint – which poses privacy concerns for unaware customers.

Kmart, Bunnings, The Good Guys signs; Facial recognition technology in use on woman
Kmart, Bunnings and The Good Guys were revealed to be using facial recognition technology. Source: Getty/The Good Guys

The investigation found that Kmart, Bunnings and The Good Guys appear to be the only three retailers that are capturing the biometric data of their customers.

Bunnings confirmed the use of facial recognition technology, while Kmart and The Good Guys did not respond to CHOICE’s request for comment.

Privacy policies confirm retailers use facial recognition

Bunnings, Kmart and The Good Guys confirm they collect “images from facial recognition software” in their privacy policies – which are publicly available online.

“The use of facial recognition by Kmart, Bunnings and The Good Guys is a completely inappropriate and unnecessary use of the technology,” said CHOICE consumer data advocate, Kate Bower.

Kmart Marrickville; Sign indicating it is using facial recognition technology
Kmart Marrickville shows a discreet sign indicating it is using facial recognition technology in the store. Source: Choice

Ms Bower also highlighted that most Aussies are not even aware that the retailers are using this technology in their stores.

“To make matters worse, we found 76 per cent of Australians aren’t aware that retailers are capturing their unique facial features in this way,” said Ms Bower.

Similar to 'collecting your fingerprints or DNA every time you shop'

Ms Bower likened capturing customer’s facial features to collecting their fingerprints or DNA every time they enter one of their shops.

“Using facial recognition technology in this way is similar to Kmart, Bunnings or The Good Guys collecting your fingerprints or DNA every time you shop,” she said.

“Businesses using invasive technologies to capture their customers’ sensitive biometric information is unethical and is a sure way to erode consumer trust.”

Facial recognition camera
CHOICE's Kate Bower likened capturing customer's facial features to collecting their fingerprints or DNA. Source: Getty

While CHOICE observed signage at the entrance of Kmart and Bunnings stores where the technology is in use, Ms Bower said discreet signage and online privacy policies are “not nearly enough” to adequately inform shoppers.

She emphasised: “The technology is capturing highly personal data from customers, including infants and children.”

CHOICE refers retailers to OAIC for Privacy Act breaches

CHOICE is referring the retailers to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) to investigate potential breaches of the Privacy Act.

The consumer advocacy group is also calling on the Federal government to implement a modern regulatory framework that protects consumers from harmful and unfair practices.

“CHOICE is concerned that Australian businesses are using facial recognition technology on consumers before Australians have had their say on its use in our community.”

“With the government currently undergoing a review of the Privacy Act, now is the perfect time to strengthen measures around the capture and use of consumer data, including biometric data,” says Ms Bower.

Bunnings responds to CHOICE investigation

Simon McDowell, Chief Operating Officer of Bunnings, has provided Yahoo News with the below statement in response to the concerns expressed by CHOICE, assuring customers that facial recognition technology is used to increase safety and minimise theft

“The safety of our team and customers is at the core of what we do and we have several measures in place to help keep our team and customers safe,” Mr McDowell said.

“At selected stores, our CCTV systems utilise facial recognition technology, which is used to help prevent theft and support the safety of our team and customers.

“In recent years, we’ve seen an increase in the number of challenging interactions our team have had to handle in our stores and this technology is an important tool in helping us to prevent repeat abuse of team and customers.

“We let customers know if the technology is in use through signage at our store entrances and also in our privacy policy, which is available on our website.

“We respectfully disagree with CHOICE. Our use is solely for the purpose of preventing threatening situations and theft, which is consistent with the Privacy Act.”

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