back to article US drugstore chain installed anti-shoplifter facial-recognition cameras in 200 locations – for eight years

Rite Aid, an American drugstore chain, secretly deployed facial recognition cameras to spy on its shoppers across 200 stores for eight years. The retailer said it hoped the technology would help identify people who had previously been caught shoplifting in its stores. If the cameras spotted a match, an alert would be sent to …

  1. Snorlax Silver badge

    Hey Tesco...

    Funny. I was in my local Tesco this morning and saw new iPad-sized screens attached to the self-service tills at head height, displaying each customer. Asked the guy behind the counter what they were used for...”Something to do with shoplifting”.

    My phone was in the car, so I didn’t get a photo. Must go back later for a pic or two...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      GDPR anyone?

      no comment

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: GDPR anyone?

        Only if they're recording the video and linking it to your card details....otherwise probably not. Or that would make CCTV itself illegal.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hey Tesco...

      A lot of ASDAs have had cameras and displays on their self-service tills for a while. I think their purpose is to give off a "you're being watched, so don't try anything" vibe

      1. Dinanziame Bronze badge
        Big Brother

        Re: Hey Tesco...

        I think their purpose is to give off a "you're being watched, so don't try anything" vibe

        Consultant: I think this message can be made much more friendly, by removing the second part of the sentence, which sounds accusatory. Also, rather than using the passive voice, rather use the active voice, with a subject indicating both closeness and a protective stance:

        "Big brother is watching you"

        There, much nicer now!

      2. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge
        Terminator

        Re: Hey Tesco...

        My local Sainsbury's has had 'self portrait' displays for a while on the self-service checkouts. I like to think they allow for expressional "for fuck's sake!" feedback to the powers that be for "unexpected item" frustrations.

        I usually stare into them while scanning on the off-chance someone is watching me, watching you, watching me.

        Oddly I can't remember if they are mirroring or non-mirroring.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hey Tesco...

      Regarding survielance cameras in stores, I know a former regional manager at a large US big box store and, at least 15 years ago in his stores, only a small number of cameras were deployed behind the grey domes in the overhead and only in the areas with high-value, easily pocketed, merchandise.

      Another of my acquaintances was the regional head of security for a multi-national big box store. He said that the cameras, again, only behind some of the ceiling-mounted domes were most often used to follow attractive females, but were mainly installed to help convict employees charged with theft.

  2. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

    Lawsuits Maybe

    I wonder if the program was really stopped because of a couple of expensive lawsuits. The accusation someone is a shoplifter possibly with a criminal record is not something some will take lightly. They just might fire a sue ball at the idiots as the false accusation is defamation/slander.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Walgreens

    Another chain of drug stores in my area "Walgreens" has started asking ID for alcohol and cigarettes.

    That is fine of course, but Walgreens takes it up a notch by entering the customers FULL birth date into the computerized cash register, all the while a camera is trained on the customers face which is viewable from the large screen monitor on the wall above and behind the cahier.

    They had even carded my 85 year old father.

    (Needless to say I stopped going to Walgreens)

    1. Joe W Silver badge

      Re: Walgreens

      Well, I regularly got id'd in my favourite pub (managed to become a regular during a month long stay in that town...). At first it felt really nice, here in Eastpondia they only id you if you look too young to buy cigs / booze. Then I realised they would id every customer...

      (Walnut brewery, Boulder, Co if you must know)

    2. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Walgreens

      reasons for "aggressive carding"...

      It may be ridiculous new laws/regulations driving it, or too many underage alcohol buyers from that store, that has caused them to over-react. But yeah, in some states, it is ILLEGAL to hand your ID to a 3rd party for ANY reason, unless it is a cop or DMV employee [someone truly authorized to handle YOUR ID]. Yet, sometimes store policies (or unnecessarily aggressive clerks) don't bother understanding this and demand you do things with your ID that you shouldn't have to do.

      I don't shop at stores that are too aggressive with IDs either. It's a little irritating, especially when you're obviously "old enough" (grey beard, etc.), and if they DEMAND I remove my ID from my wallet, I'll just say "forget it, no sale". Demanding I hand it to them gets a lecture on what the law says.

    3. low_resolution_foxxes Bronze badge

      Re: Walgreens

      Would this not be an effort to force the cashier to check ages properly?

      I mean, it's not like they can do much with a birthdate, except perhaps demographic marketing.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Loyalty Card

    Big retail should just tie all this into loyalty/reward cards. Add some biometrics et voila! People will gladly sign away their rights for those offers and promotions!

  5. RM Myers Silver badge
    Happy

    "Humans are pretty good at spouting a lot of nonsense, too"

    Wait a minute, is El Reg implying that amanfromMars might be human? Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, which I haven't seen yet!

    1. WolfFan Silver badge

      Re: "Humans are pretty good at spouting a lot of nonsense, too"

      No. They’re implying that DJT might be human, something which requires a lot more evidence.

      1. Duncan Macdonald Silver badge
        Unhappy

        Re: "Humans are pretty good at spouting a lot of nonsense, too"

        Unfortunately extreme stupidity is far too common in the human race.

        Ignorance is treatable by education - stupidity is unfortunately not treatable (except by the Grim Reaper!!).

        1. Teiwaz Silver badge

          Re: "Humans are pretty good at spouting a lot of nonsense, too"

          Ignorance is treatable by education - stupidity is unfortunately not treatable (except by the Grim Reaper!!).

          You left out aggressive ignorance - most ably displayed by many politicians and certain religious types.

    2. vtcodger Silver badge

      Re: "Humans are pretty good at spouting a lot of nonsense, too"

      Wait a minute, is El Reg implying that amanfromMars might be human?

      Well, if the arbiter of human-ness is to be a computing device. And given the current state of AI. I see no reason that a "man" from Mars couldn't be classed as "human".

      The real issue, I think, might be whether the Mars creature is entitled to take umbrage at such an insult and retaliate by sterilizing a couple of counties.

  6. iron Silver badge

    Every passage I've seen that was generated by OpenAI’s GPT algortihms was obviously fake. It can almost make sense for two or three sentences but any more than that and it becomes nonsensical garbage. The lack of coherent thought between sentences and abysmal grammar make it easy to spot.

    Then again I think I've just described most Reddit / Twitter posts and everything uttered by Donnie Orange so... YMMV.

    1. James 139

      Ah, so THAT's what's running Trumps brain.

  7. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

    Casinos ...

    ... already do this. And have for quite some time. If you are a card counter or other kind of cheat, they will show you to the door pretty quickly if they catch you on the premises again.

    I get that's it's a different kind of market. People don't have to play blackjack. They do need prescriptions filled. If they just toss people out, that's a problem. But if an ex-shoplifter gets followed around the store by security, well that's part of the cost of a prior shoplifting conviction.

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: Casinos ...

      You mean the cost of "vaguely appearing a little bit like someone else at certain angles to an unknowable algorithm".

      Facial matching algorithms are poor to terrible, and get worse the more "targets" and angles they're supposed to match against.

  8. Mike 16 Silver badge

    card counter or other kind of cheat,

    The whole idea of card-counting being a cheat is a bit ex post facto.

    Casinos changed the rules after it became known/popular.

    About what one would expect from the inventors of the double zero.

  9. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "an alert would be sent to security staff who could then confront the suspected thief"

    The suspected thief. No proof, just suspicion, and that is enough to get in trouble.

    I'm sorry but that does not chime with legal rights. I will admit you have the right to watch me, but if you come up to me and ask me to leave the shop I'm going to demand what right you have to do so, and I will not be leaving until the police show up and tell me that that is what I should do.

    And when the police show up I'm going to demand what the reason is for being treated like a shoplifter when I've done nothing wrong, and when security comes up blank, I'm going to sue. Because that's what you do in the Land Of The Used To Be Free.

    Of course, this is happening in the USA, so you'd better be white to pull this off these days.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "an alert would be sent to security staff who could then confront the suspected thief"

      You have no legal right to be on private property. They can ask you to leave even with no reason, and if you refuse, then you're trespassing.

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        Allow me to disagree. A shop has the legal obligation to allow customers to enter. As long as the customer is not being disruptive, the shop has no right to refuse service.

        At least, that's how I think it works.

        1. Sherrie Ludwig

          @Pascal Monett

          Shopkeeper in the USA here. I can refuse entry to anyone, they are free to sue, but few do. I have refused to "buzz in"" (in a dodgy neighborhood) a large group of young men (this was a women's clothing shop), a religious pamphleteer, etc. they all threaten to sue, have not been served yet. I might be pilloried in social media (some shop in NY refused entry to a woman who turned out to be Oprah Winfrey), but them's the breaks.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          You're free to disagree, but you're still wrong.

          Now...if the customer challenges you and says you refused service on certain grounds...that's a different matter entirely. But they still have no right to service.

    2. martinusher Silver badge

      Re: "an alert would be sent to security staff who could then confront the suspected thief"

      >I'm sorry but that does not chime with legal rights. I will admit you have the right to watch me, but if you come up to me and ask me to leave the shop I'm going to demand what right you have to do so...

      Simple -- see notice posted prominently near the entrance "We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone". You British have really got to get a handle on this rights thing, its like the concept was imported some years ago without really being understood. So when the police turn up -- if they turn up -- they're not going to be very happy with you because you're causing a disturbance and, believe it or not, you're trespassing (as the store owner or his/her representative has asked you to leave).

      Its really not a color thing, either. This technology is in wide use in Las Vegas, its how card sharps and pickpockets are identified. Video surveillance is ubiqutous and if there's any suspicion of someone playing against the rules they'll be watched carefully and if they are found to be cheating they'll be pulled aside, there will be a quiet talk in an office, they'll be photographed and what-have-you and sent on their way. From that moment on any attempt to enter any casino will be flagged. Its not unreasonable to get the same treatment from a store; you will be watched -- there's typically a prominent notice and a screen showing you video surveillance at work -- and they'll zero in on anyone who looks suspicious. (Its actually a little trick I used to get the attention of an employee at a big box store such as Home Depot -- if you look a bit furtive then sooner rather than later a friendly employee will turn up and ask you if you need anything. Works a treat.)

      (I suspect that the reason why there's all this fuss is that the era of the 'five fingered discount' is drawing to a close.)

      1. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

        Re: "an alert would be sent to security staff who could then confront the suspected thief"

        'Simple -- see notice posted prominently near the entrance "We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone".'

        That's a bit of a gray area. Just try refusing service to a member of a 'protected' class. Just because someone sells the neat little signs doesn't give them the force of law.

        And then there's my favorite fast food joint that has a little sign reading "We reserve the right to serve refuse to anyone".

    3. This post has been deleted by its author

  10. chivo243 Silver badge

    Mooted Point?

    With X% of the customers entering a drug store wearing a mask, I wager a guess that facial recog is even less effective. Add a pair of Jackie-O sunglasses, and what is left to recognize? I read somewhere that someone's gait is also easy to identify? What is next, sensors in the floor??

  11. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Unhappy

    " Sham accounts could churn out fake news, bogus claims, and hate speech to influence

    things like political campaigns,"

    If they haven't already done so.

  12. Pirate Dave
    Pirate

    "Tech researcher Renee Diresta, who works at the Stanford Internet Observatory"

    Observatory? Like in Astronomy? So a gravy job where you get paid to browse the Internet and make notes.

    1. Aussie Doc Bronze badge
      Big Brother

      Yeah, sure.

      “other large technology companies seem to be scaling back or rethinking their efforts..."

      Manglement speak for "We hate it when people find out."

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