Hundreds of stores, from Walgreens to Macy's, are silently deploying facial recognition technology to spy on customers (and it's legal in most states).

5 of 5 (1 Vote)

- Technology can determine the age and gender of customers to serve them advertisements.
- In stores, screens follow customers and offer them personalized advertisements.
- READ MORE : An AI company announces that its database will soon include 100 billion photos

Major US retailers are already using facial recognition cameras to spy on customers, an activist group has warned.

This technology, typically associated with authoritarian regimes like China, is used both to identify shoplifters and to deliver “personalized” ads.

Caitlin Seeley George of Fight for the Future, which campaigns against facial recognition, told that the use of the technology has been "steadily spreading" in silence for several years.

Walgreens and Macy's are among the largest retailers to test devices using the technology, rolling them out in hundreds of stores across the country.

And it's not just America: Britain is also adopting this technology.

Facial recognition stores
Stores are using facial recognition to both stop shoplifters
and to serve advertisements (Getty)

The cameras are used not only to stop repeat shoplifters, but also to monitor customers and analyze their emotions, so stores can show personalized ads on screens inside the store, Mr. George.

A lot of stores say they use it to identify shoplifters and as a deterrent,” she said.

They collect information about customers and observe what they buy and don't buy. They also use artificial intelligence tools to analyze customer emotions and determine the type of advertising to send to them.

The global market for facial recognition technologies is expected to reach $7 billion by 2024, according to a study by the Thales group.

There is no federal law governing the use of facial recognition technology, Mr. George said, and in most U.S. states there are no laws preventing its use.

Some states, including Washington, Vermont, and Maine, have regulated the use of this technology.

Eric Adams, Mayor of New York, encouraged retailers to use this technology to fight crime.

George said, "A few states and communities have looked into using this technology, but overall there is no policy on the matter, so stores can move forward at their own rhythm.

Stores such as Walgreens have experimented with facial recognition advertising

ALFI prides itself on being able to “personalize” advertisements for each buyer (ALFI).

Stores use this technology to get results similar to the data they get from membership cards, but without anyone signing up for a card program.

Companies like ALFI boast of their ability to use facial recognition and artificial intelligence to “sense” customers’ emotions while they are in a store and serve them personalized ads.

ALFI also claims that its technology, which uses AI to analyze camera images, can accurately perceive age and ethnicity.

The company said: “ALFI’s advertising platform can switch between advertisements depending on who is in front of the screen.

For out-of-home digital advertising, this is unheard of. ALFI can be installed on any device with an internet connection and a camera, and deliver personalized content and advertisements to anyone viewing the screen.

The company says no data is stored on its devices, which maintains customer privacy.

Walgreens was one of the first to enthusiastically adopt this technology: 750 stores installed Cooler Screens sensors on refrigerator doors, which deliver personalized advertisements based on the appearance of customers

In Walgreens stores, video screens placed above refrigerators play advertisements based on the user's presence (the ability to detect gender and age has remained disabled, according to Walgreens).

The company has since terminated its contract with Cooler Screens.

Ms George said cameras installed in stores are used to "assess information about you" and gather information about what advertising to run to persuade someone to open a fridge.

She added: "We have worked to end the use of facial recognition very generally by public authorities and law enforcement, as well as by private companies who use it in places We managed to target certain types of spaces in order to exert strong public pressure to stop using facial recognition.

The campaign successfully persuaded events such as music festivals to avoid using facial recognition technology

She added: "As we saw this technology becoming more widespread in stores, we thought this might be a space where we could do the same thing. One of the problems is "There are no laws about it in most countries, and they don't have to tell you if they use it."

A lot of the retailers we've contacted haven't really wanted to engage with us on this topic, because I think they're concerned about public backlash and so would rather do it discreetly, rather than to make their use public. Instead of publicizing their use.”

In 2020, a Buzzfeed investigation uncovered leaked documents suggesting that Macy's used software from the controversial company ClearView AI, which compared faces to a database scraped from the web .

Macy's has faced lawsuits over its alleged use of ClearView AI facial recognition technology.

George said: "We contacted Macy's and they were very categorical: 'Yes, we use facial recognition and we have no plans to stop it.' But part of the problem we "We're struck by the fact that many retailers don't really want to make their use public."

For ordinary consumers, it's not possible to see stores' privacy policies, Mr. George says, and that's why Fight for the Future keeps a list.

For anyone going to the grocery store, people can't go online and look at all the store's privacy policies every time they have to go pick something up, it's just absurd. That’s why we’re trying to get people to understand this issue.”

Ms George says many small "family" stores have quietly purchased facial recognition technology and she believes store owners are trying to combat shoplifting themselves, lacking support from the police.

George said: "What we're seeing is that the fear of shoplifting is very much there. A lot of these stores don't have the flexibility to lose their profits because of that. And the law enforcement does nothing either.

The reality is that any time there is mass surveillance of a society, it is used to cop people."



Further information :




Subscribe to the Daily Crashletter

Subscribe to the Crashletter to receive all the new articles on the site at 17:00 p.m.

Archive / Research

Friend sites