If you walk into any store today, more often than not you will be greeted by a sign saying that shoplifters will be prosecuted. While these signs have become fairly commonplace, their warnings are not an empty threat: very often, a shoplifter can be successfully found due to facial recognition technology, which is used in most North American stores. While you are shopping, unbeknownst to you a computer scans your face to ensure that your individual features do not match those of shoplifters in the system or on a watch list.
Today’s advanced technology enables facial recognition to occur at the impressive speed at which it does. So how does it work? One technique involves cameras tracking key features — such as the eyes and nose — and determining the specific distance between each feature. Another technique considers a shopper’s face more topographically, and analyzes and compares different contours and textures between individuals.
By targeting shoplifters, these techniques have mostly served to benefit security — so far. But how would you feel if a store employed facial recognition technology not just to seek out those stealing their merchandise, but to identify or even reward frequent customers?
Montreal-based company Genetec’s facial recognition technology would allow retail stores to recognize the customers who frequently visit their locations. Their company is one example of how facial recognition technology can also be used to analyze how shoppers behave in stores — what merchandise they might be drawn to, and where in the store they spend the most time. So, it can ultimately help retail employees understand more about the demographics of their customers: who comes into their stores, and for how long.
But contrary to what you might think, this technology does not allow those who work in a store to identify what you physically look like. Rather, the computer will be able to identify you based on your typical shopping behaviours — but based on your appearance, no one else would be able to recognize you. This is very significant, as it could help reduce privacy concerns — only your shopping behaviour is recognizable, not your individual appearance.
Do you think facial recognition technology should be used in stores? Sound off in the comments below.