Grocer uses facial recognition technology to deter shoplifters, drawing concerns

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Tuesday, March 21, 2023 4:40PM
Upper West Side supermarket's anti-theft solution draws concern
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A New York City Fairway market sparks concern over its facial recognition technology used to put an end to shoplifters. Lauren Glassberg has the story.

NEW YORK -- Smile! You're on camera.

For customers at a New York City supermarket chain, that message is more like: customers' "biometric" data may be collected.

As a way to prevent shoplifting, the Upper West Side location of popular New York City grocer Fairway is using facial recognition technology and other biometric gathering tools, including voice recording, to catch repeat offenders.

Privacy concerns were raised after a sign was posted to the front of the store: "This Business collects, retains, converts, stores, or shares customers' biometric identifier information, which is information that can be used to identify or help identify you."

According to Fairway in a statement, the technology is "helping our store reduce retail crime."

SEE ALSO | TSA trying out facial recognition system at several new airports

This news comes as shoplifting continues to surge across the country. Retailers like Walgreens, Target and Walmart have closed stores in certain cities because of it.

"This is not a city where you can walk in a store, take what you want, and walk out," said New York City Mayor Eric Adams in response to the city's growing number of shoplifting complaints. In New York, complaints surged to more than 63,000 last year.

Dozen of large retailers are reportedly using facial recognition to catch shoplifters, including entertainment venues like First Energy Stadium in Cleveland, the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. and Citi Field in New York.

"It's very, very, it's very, very difficult to find a pin in a haystack, so to speak at a large venue or large events," said Scott Spiro, cybersecurity expert and co-founder of Sugarshot. "So yeah, I think you're gonna continue to see the technology distributed."

Recently, the owner of Madison Square Garden came under fire for using facial recognition to identify and remove people.

"There's positives and negatives, for law enforcement there's some huge, huge positives," Spiro continued. "On the negative side and the concerning side, we've got a real challenge potentially around how that data is utilized, especially if it's put in the wrong hands."