Your grocery store is scanning your face. Retail shops are increasingly using facial recognition to catch shoplifters. Do we want them too? Is it worth it? Veronica Belmont and Tom Merritt discuss.
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4 thoughts on “DTNS 2630 – Facial Profiling”
First, and this is really important; people who have worked in a retail environment for any length of time already know who the shoplifters are. They even know their names. They know when they come in, they know when they leave, and they usually know when they’ve stolen something. Smartly, most major retailers instruct the staff not to intervene in these situations. Not smartly, these retailers do not provide enough security to do anything about it. One security guy covering 1,000,000+ square feet and nine exits is not going to work. The hardcore shoplifters who make a living out of it are smart, organized, and come in numbers larger than any retailer can effectively handle. The thieves can walk right out the door with security tagged merchandise and they know it. Even with video evidence, retailers seldom prosecute, and the thieves know this too. Retailers arguing they need facial recognition to stop theft is utter nonsense. This is about tracking you and your buying habits, and creating targeted marketing to entice you to purchase more.
Secondly, and this is a free word of caution to retailers; I do not exist to purchase your products, you exist to provide for my needs. If I even suspect that a company is using facial recognition for any purpose at all, I will cease doing business with them for-ever. Period.
Many years ago, Sony once put a pc rootkit on their music CD’s. While the music division of Sony is separate from its other divisions, each division had made missteps that were either wrong, misguided, or simply rubbed me the wrong way. For me, the rootkit was the final straw and indicative that there was a top-down culture of war against their consumers. To this day, I will not buy any Sony product from any Sony division. Not a camera, a music download, a game, etc. I won’t even see a movie at the theater if I know it’s been made by Sony Pictures.
Why? Because this is the power I have, and I sure as hell use it. We all share the responsibility to hold their feet to the fire and say, “I am your customer, and you will respect me absolutely or we’re done.”
Retailers should be deathly afraid of angering their customers. If enough people were to fight back in this way, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
I worked in retail for a long time and yeah we knew some of the shoplifters but we definitely did not know all of them.
Several points on facial recognition, which don’t really constitute any argument for or against any particular action:
1. As a legal matter, you have no “reasonable expectation of privacy” in a public space. (There are some limitations that don’t really apply for this discussion.) Police rely upon this all the time. Private individuals, including store owners, have a right to rely upon it as well.
2. Facial recognition is very commonly used in casinos to identify people who aren’t allowed to gamble. This includes card counters, who are not doing anything illegal, btw, but are only increasing their odds in a way not unlike the ways casinos use to increase their own odds. As I understand it, casinos share their lists of these people.
3. It does not make economic sense to prosecute an individual instance of shoplifting. But I’m not sure that prosecuting every instance of shoplifting very publicly would be a bad idea. Organized criminals like shoplifting gangs are much more likely to both know about and avoid stores that are aggressively pursuing shoplifters.
4. It turns out to be very difficult to shoplift from Amazon. 😎
Posted the previous comment before the post show, so a further comment on “cultural appropriation”:
I’m offended* by the use of the names of the gods of my ancestors to indicate the names of days of the week, specifically Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. This constitutes religious bigotry, specifically an attempt to trivialize that religion.
Further, and more important, Tiw/Tyr (the source of Tuesday) is from a pantheon (the Vanir) that was appropriated by worshipers of the Aesir as an instance of cultural genocide**, so it is doubly offensive.
Further use of these day names is culturally offensive and must be stopped!
Alternatively, we could go back to the old US ideal of the melting pot, wherein we shamelessly take whatever ideas and practices we think are worthy from whoever seems good.
One of those, anyway.
* Remember, Americans are incapable of irony, so this is totally serious. Really!!
** Probably true, btw, at least for some value of “cultural genocide”. It’s likely that the Aesir-Vanir war in Norse mythology is a reference to cultural clashes between believers in different pantheons that were won by the followers of the Aesir.