Woolworths dragged into Kmart and Bunnings furore after training leak

Woolworths has responded to claims that it uses facial recognition technology in its stores after an internal training module referencing the technology was leaked.

The supermarket giant issued a response after a screenshot of a training module circulated online, claiming Woolworths uses "facial mapping to identify thieves".

"It's not just Bunnings that is using facial recognition. This is from a Woolies training module from 2020," reads a post on Reddit.

Woolworths internal training slide about security
Woolworths has responded to claims that it uses facial recognition technology after an internal training module leaked online. Source: Reddit/Roh_Pete

The screenshot of the learning module outlines several security measures the supermarket enforces to stop shoplifting in its stores, including duress alarms, welcome gates, electronic article surveillance (EAS) and security guards.

But it's the information at the bottom of the module that has shoppers questioning whether Woolworths was telling customers the truth about their use of facial recognition.

"Our high standard CCTV footage is already resulting in offenders being arrested by police. We are using technology like artificial intelligence and facial mapping to identify offenders!" reads the text.

CCTV camera in store
Woolworths' leaked training module references the use of "facial mapping" to identify thieves. Source: Getty

Woolworths responds to facial recognition claims

A spokesperson for Woolworths adamantly denied claims the supermarket uses facial recognition in its stores.

The spokesperson confirmed to Yahoo News Australia that it was an innocent mistake made by poor wording and has since been rectified.

"We don't use any form of facial recognition technology in-store and we'll be updating the wording in the module to make this clearer," said the spokesperson.

Woolworths shopper exits supermarket with shopping bag
Woolworths adamantly denies claims the supermarket uses facial recognition in its stores. Source: AAP

"The point in the module is a reference to us providing CCTV upon request to police to assist with any investigations."

While Woolworths may not use these technologies, the company does work with police – who may use tools such as facial recognition.

CHOICE finds Kmart, Bunnings, The Good Guys using 'unethical' tech

The revelation follows a report by consumer advocacy group CHOICE, which found that three of Australia's top retailers are using facial recognition technology to identify customers in stores.

The commercial use of facial recognition poses potential issues to people, such as privacy breaches, identity fraud, data theft and unethical use – which is why CHOICE is calling for a ban on the technology until Australia places a regulatory framework around its use.

"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," said CHOICE's consumer data advocate, Kate Bower.

CHOICE has since filed a complaint with the Office of the Information Commissioner (OAIC) accusing the three companies — The Good Guys, Kmart and Bunnings — for using facial recognition in a way that is "invasive" and "unethical".

Retailer pauses use of 'unethical and unnecessary' technology

The Good Guys has announced that it will pause using facial recognition technology while the OAIC considers the complaint made by CHOICE.

"CHOICE welcomes the announcement that The Good Guys will pause the use of facial recognition technology in their stores while the Information Commissioner investigates their use of this technology. This is an important step in the right direction for The Good Guys, and a decision we know reflects community expectations," says CHOICE senior campaigns and policy advisor, Amy Pereira.

"Meanwhile, Bunnings and Kmart are lagging behind when it comes to any kind of commitment to stop the unethical and unnecessary use of facial recognition technology in their stores. We urge Kmart and Bunnings to reflect on the announcement made yesterday by The Good Guys, and ask them to end their use of facial recognition technology in store."

"Following our investigation, we have had an overwhelming response from the Australian community saying clearly they do not want this kind of technology used in retail stores. People who shop at The Good Guys will be pleased to know they're now able to do their shopping without this intrusive technology monitoring them."

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