The Implications of Using Facial Recognition For Retail Loss Prevention

Posted on 24 May 2019
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We've previously covered how artificial intelligence may benefit retailers – for example, one of its modules,facial recognition, can use machine learning to pick out a 'known face' from a crowd. With great technology though, comes great responsibility. The use of facial recognition to combat retail loss prevention brings with it societal implications too.

The Trend of Facial Recognition For Retail Loss Prevention

It is perhaps no surprise to see why retailers are turning to AI security systems to help prevent incidents such as shoplifting. Retail crime is on the rise – the British Retail Consortium (BRC)says that the costs of retail crime were estimated to be around £700 million during 2017;a 6% increase from the previous year. It has also emerged that, due to their limited resources, police are not investigating thefts of items worth less than £200.

This is why the onus is being put on owners of retail stores to create more robust retail loss prevention methods, which has naturally led to them experimenting with facial recognition technology to identify persons of interest, quickly and easily.

Using 'Security Cameras' As Marketing Tools

It isn't just loss prevention that can betaken care of by AI cameras; recognising a face can also help the retailer with marketing and even build up a 'profile' for regular visitors. Retailers can use the demographical information that their cameras collect to help them to gain a better understanding of the people who enter their store, which areas they spend the most time in, which product/product displays they interact with the most. This information will more likely give the store a better opportunity to create a winning retail philosophy.

The Social Implication of Facial Recognition Cameras

Although the benefits of facial recognition cameras for retail loss prevention are obvious, such tech could cause potentially large issues for the average shopper and society as a whole. At the time of writing, South Wales Police are being taken to court for'capturing biometric data (the facial features) of a person without their consent'.

Whilst out shopping in Cardiff, Ed Bridges approached a police van that stated that it was employing 'automatic facial recognition'. Mr Bridges states that 'by the time I was close enough [to see the designation of the van] I had already had my data captured by it',striking him as being an invasion of his privacy.

The case will put forward many questions about the rights of public and private institutions in regards to capturing a person's data. Liberty, a civil rights group, are supporting Mr Bridges and have summed up the use of facial recognition as being 'just like taking people's DNA or fingerprints, without their knowledge or consent'.

The police use the tool to obtain the biometric data of people to compare to their databases of wanted people – and says it does not retain images of those who are not on any of their lists.Policing experts say that their use is 'vital' in spotting people who may have warrants out for their arrest, are dangerous criminals out to cause harm to the public or those who may be on a terrorist watch list.

The problem that opponents have seems to stem from what they believe the intentions of those who capture the data are.Liberty say that the technology is actually used for more 'mundane policing'(such as catching pickpockets), to look for people with mental health conditions and for police watch lists that include people not wanted for any ongoing crime, amongst others. There's also a question about how the technology deals with identifying black and ethnic minority people. Its poor performance, when testing such persons, suggests that they are more likely to be picked up and interrogated by police, even if they are not the ones who are wanted.

What Does The Law Currently Say About Face Recognition Cameras?

Using cameras to recognise a person's face falls under a special category of personal data under GDPR law, meaning that higher standards will apply to it. When dealing with such data, operators must use secure systems, as well as be selective where they place their cameras. Having them installed everywhere could be construed as a possible breach of privacy.

Facial recognition software manufacturers have been lobbying the government to enact into law 'the use of biometric technology for crime prevention purposes'. This means that the public won't have to provide consent for its use. Currently, other uses of face recognition(such as for access control to get in the home or workplace) will need permission from the person.

The sharing of biometric data for crime prevention purposes currently needs to be 'in the substantial public interest'.With facial recognition being a new area of surveillance, the definition of what is in the substantial public interest has not yet been fully put into law, so the outcome of the case involving South Wales Police will have a major factor on the future governance of the technology and by extension, retail loss prevention.

Need To Learn More About The Latest CCTV Technology? Get In Touch With The Experts

Here at Tagmax, we have been providing a range of security camera, software and other types of shop security devices for over 20 years now. Endeavouring to stay up-to-date with all of the latest innovations has allowed us to gain an expert knowledge on the future of the industry.

So if you would like to learn more about how you can protect your property and everything in it with the latest in retail loss prevention, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us. Give us a call on 0800 044 3160 or send any questions you may have via e-mail to

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