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Australian Watchdog Looks Into Retailers’ Facial Recognition Tech

 |  June 27, 2022

Three of Australia’s biggest retail chains have been referred to the privacy regulator by a major consumer group which has said they use “unreasonably intrusive” facial recognition technology on customers. The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner said it is reviewing the complaint, which argues that the three companies collect personal and sensitive information without consent.

As Reuters reported Monday (June 27), CHOICE has filed a complaint with the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC), citing what it calls unwarranted use of the technology at appliance chain The Good Guys, hardware supplier Bunnings and the Australian arm of Kmart.

Amy Pereira, a policy adviser for CHOICE, said facial recognition technology put people at risk of “invasion of privacy, misidentification, discrimination, profiling and exclusion, as well as vulnerability to cybercrime through data breaches and identity theft,” Reuters reported.

“CHOICE urges you as Commissioner to investigate this matter further and consider taking enforcement action against Kmart, Bunnings and The Good Guys for failure to meet their obligations under the (Privacy) Act,” she said in the complaint.

The OAIC told Reuters it is reviewing the complaint. Simon McDowell, chief operating officer at Bunnings, said the chain only used facial recognition for security after “an increase in the number of challenging interactions our team have had to handle” and that his company was “disappointed by CHOICE’s inaccurate characterization.”

JB Hi-Fi and Kmart were not immediately available for comment Monday morning.

Reuters notes that if the OAIC proceeds with an investigation, it would be Australia’s largest facial recognition investigation. Consumer groups around the world have cautioned that the technology could lead to invasions of privacy and potential racial profiling.

Last month, a group of Democratic senators called on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate whether identity verification services provider ID.me had made “multiple misleading statements” about its facial recognition use.

U.S. Senators Ron Wyden of Oregon, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts and Alex Padilla of California said in the letter that the company has made numerous statements in the past year that its “one-to-one” facial recognition technology was superior to “one-to-many” facial recognition, in which a person’s photo is checked against a “digital lineup” of other people.