Some Australian retailers collect facial recognition data

16 June 2022

Consumer advocate organisation CHOICE has found three major Australian retailers have been collecting facial recognition data, something that is probably news to many of their customers.

CHOICE staff members also visited some of these stores in person as part of the investigation. Bower says the Kmart and Bunnings stores they visited had physical signs at the store entrances informing customers about the use of the technology, but the signs were small, inconspicuous and would have been missed by most shoppers. The collection of biometric data in such a manner may be in breach of the Privacy Act.

We’ve probably all seen the notices at the entrances to the stores advising the practice takes place, but it is doubtful most customers have read them. In their defence, one of the retailers claims the technology is being used to “prevent theft and anti-social behaviour.”

This may be so, and businesses are entitled to protect their revenue, customers, and staff, but it is the clandestine nature of the practice that is alarming customers, some of whom are threatening to shop elsewhere. There are warnings though that more stores will turn to collecting facial recognition data as the technology becomes more accessible, so, unless future legislation says otherwise, it looks like conduct that Australian consumers will have to get used to.

In the meantime, retailers should make notifications more prominent, along with information about how to locate their data retention and privacy policies. For instance how long is such data retained, and who exactly has access to it? Retailers need to remember the vast majority of consumers are after all doing the right thing by them, and are deserving of more respectful treatment.