back to article Facial-recognition technology gets a smack in the chops from civil rights campaigners

Civil rights campaigners in the US have called on retailers to stop using facial-recognition technology amid worrying privacy concerns and fears that it could lead to people being wrongly arrested. Fight for the Future – which is made up of more than 35 organisations including the Consumer Federation of America, the Electronic …

  1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    What's the problem?

    You don't like being face-scanned at High St store X = don't shop on High St at store X !

    Hey High St Store X - you know how the high street is fscked and everyone is shopping online and you are going bust?

    You know how you are now driving your few remaining customers to boycott you ?

    Yeah, perhaps don't do that !

    1. elsergiovolador Silver badge

      Re: What's the problem?

      You don't like being face-scanned at High St store X = don't shop on High St at store X !

      Where are you going to shop when all stores will be doing that?

      You know how you are now driving your few remaining customers to boycott you ?

      Majority of people don't know about this or don't care, so a few customers who are aware of the abuse will not make a dent in profits.

      That's why this needs regulation.

      1. ShadowSystems Silver badge

        Re: What's the problem?

        Regulation would be good, but until/unless it happens we're left at the mercy of such entities that insist on using the tech.

        Unless, of course, you resort to posting on social media about your experience, insisting that you will boycott them for such behavior, & urging everyone else to #boycott$company.

        Get that hashtag trending, let it go viral, & $Company will quickly change their behavior as the court of public opinion proves to be a rather powerful stick with which to beat a clue into their heads with.

        I came to post my experience earlier today, so this is as good of a place as any. I went to BestBuy today to buy a HDD. Upon entering their store I get asked by an employee to remove my mask for security purposes. I insist that I'll continue to wear it because I'd rather not die of the plague, TYVM. He insists I take it off, I shake my head & leave instead. If you want to engage in facial recog tech that's fine, but don't be surprised when your customers decide to vote with their wallets & feet. So long BestBuy, you just lost a sale. Why? Because you insisted I remove my face mask during a global pandemic so you could scan my face to make sure I wasn't ... what? A homicidal sociopathic killer about to slaughter everyone with my navigation cane?

        The tech is so buggy it has no business being used for anything other than further experimentation to finetune the various bits. If you want to use it in public then you had better make sure it works *at least* with 90% accuracy else you're setting yourself up to get slapped with a lawsuit for discrimination/persecution/etc. =-\

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: What's the problem?

          >So long BestBuy, you just lost a sale.

          But as the other poster said, how else are you able to buy electronics without going into a physical store?

          It's not like there is some magic shop on your phone that you can just touch the picture and have the item delivered to your door at a lower price

          1. Cuddles Silver badge

            Re: What's the problem?

            Where's that then? I hope you're not thinking of Amazon, who are signficantly more abusive to their customers and workers than merely recording their faces, and in any case are rarely cheaper than alternatives these days. Sure, ordering from any other retailer online will avoid any issues with your face specifically being recognised, but if you're avoiding them out of principle then physical or online makes no difference to your options.

        2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: What's the problem?

          And how do you even know if X is using face scanning?

          Not that I really care that much - it's too much trouble to get into my nearest big town. Like so many they're hostile to cars and public transport from my own small village is not good. My best bet if I need to go into town is to drive to another, bigger village, park there and get their better bus service although obviously for the last year plus that's been a non-starter. But when I park there I might as well do any shopping there that's possible there or maybe some other village and for the rest there's online.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: What's the problem?

          Just a note - Best Buy is heavily overpriced for computer parts, in my experience. I once bought a new power supply for $40 from my local computer repair shop, then happened to be in BB and saw the exact same power supply for $70.

          For parts, find a small computer shop and ask the person behind the counter about their computer. If they say something like "it's a Dell, I think", go somewhere else. If they rattle off the specs and start showing you photos of their watercooling system (as one did to me, WITHOUT asking!), you're in the right place.

          1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Drew Scriver

      Re: What's the problem?

      The problem is that "the sheeple" won't care until it's too late. In the meantime, their ignorance and indifference will force the rest of us into the same situation.

      Now that I know that Lowe's is still using the technology and that Home Depot isn't, I will be getting my stuff at the HD. Same prices, pretty much the same assortment.

      If I do need something at Lowe's I'll order online and have them bring it to me in the parking lot. Thanks to the pandemic this is now an option.

      In addition, I will be filling out the surveys they put on the receipts even more frequently. Lowe's to tell them why I'm not getting out of my car. HD's survey to tell them why I'm avoiding Lowe's.

      At the end of the day I don't know that it'll make much of a difference, though. Tracking is ubiquitous and virtually unavoidable. Want to bet virtually every retailer has either already matched customers' phone MAC-addresses to their names, or is contemplating doing so?

  2. Eclectic Man Silver badge

    Customer Service

    "it can be used to personalise in-store marketing and improve customer service"

    By this they mean following you around the store pointing out things they want you to buy, rather than letting you find them for yourself. Remember how supermarkets, particularly the food retailers regularly re-arrange their stores so that you cannot fund what you normally buy? That is making you look at things you don't normally buy in the hope that you will start. Maybe there will be a tannoy announcement:

    "And for Robert* who has just entered the store wearing his usual baggy jeans and red hoodie top, the haemorrhoid cream is now located in the second isle from the single portion meals aisle which stock your favourite chicken vindaloo. Buy both and get 50p off."

    As for 'improving' customer service, how?

    *Not my real name, I do not have baggy jeans, a red hoodie top, eat chicken vindaloo or have haemorrhoids. (Honest.)

    1. elsergiovolador Silver badge

      Re: Customer Service

      "it can be used to personalise in-store marketing and improve customer service"

      Is a marketing speak for manipulation and fraud. They want to make you think you need something and then take your money.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Customer Service

        And possibly make it less likely that you'll be able to find what you really need.

        1. Electronics'R'Us Silver badge

          Re: Customer Service

          When I go to a supermarket I am a 'man on a mission'.

          I am not there to browse; it's not an antiques shop or some other place where I may well be interested in just looking around. I want to get in, get what is on my list and look at some things that may be of interest, and get out.

          When things get moved around, I don't bother looking for the item(s) - I just go somewhere else where I can buy the item(s) at much the same price without the hassle of searching a very large store for the new 'hiding place'.

          If they have moved it to the ready made meals aisle then they are definitely not going to get the sale. We haven't had a 'ready made' meal in over 20 years.

          So don't move stuff around if they want me to buy the things I usually get.

          Now, we have 'loyalty' cards which can be abused but as I spread my shopping across at least 4 supermarkets (and none of them use Nectar which is used by a lot of retailers) so none of them get the overall picture.

          One supermarket actually sends me money off vouchers for things that I actually usually buy which is not the case for most of them.

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: Customer Service

            I think there's ample evidence that marketroids are very, very bad at working out what people want. Anyone who doesn't block adverts has tails of the irrelevant or no longer relevant ads following them online. Anyone who regularly uses Amazon or other online store has a similar experience with recommendations.

            It follows that if they think people want what they don't want they're likely to think they don't want what they do want and consequently products get discontinued or at least becomes more difficult to find. You may be on a mission and prepared to look where the product is now but if it's no longer stocked you're not going to find it.

        2. Eclectic Man Silver badge

          Re: Customer Service

          Doctor Syntax: "And possibly make it less likely that you'll be able to find what you really need."

          I think you'll find that the store management will decide what you really need, thank you very much. Your job, as customer, is to pay for it.

      2. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
        Big Brother

        Re: Customer Service

        Don't forget that includes raising prices for frequent shoppers and lowering them for first timers.

        Once they are hooked... then they are fair game.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Customer Service

      The three best ways of finding out what I want to buy are:

      1. Look at what I bought. I tend to buy stuff like that (except for big ticket items, which are very rare.)

      2. I'll ask someone if I can't find what I want. Have the employees report what people ask for (just what was asked, nothing about the person).

      3. I do fill out the surveys. Put in a question about "was there anything you couldn't find".

      As for personalized marketing of ANY kind, uh, no. That's more likely to drive me away. Also those %*(& automated talking "free sample" dispensers.

  3. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    How is it putting people in jail "for crimes they didn't commit"? The technology doesn't put people in jail, the justice system puts people in jail, and the only way evidence can be used to support a conviction is if that evidence supports that conviction. If they didn't do the crime, the evidence didn't support the conviction, some other factor - *human* factors - perverted the process.

    1. elsergiovolador Silver badge

      The concept of innocent until proven guilty has been gone for years. There are instances where you have to prove that you didn't do what you have been accused of.

      1. cincyreds62

        really? can you give one example of such an instance?

        1. edge_e

          have 3

        2. Kevin Fairhurst

          Until the attorney was able to find the “lost” evidence which exonerated him, it seemed that someone was going to be sent up the river for a crime he didn’t commit!

        3. Irony Deficient Silver badge

          one example of such an instance

          In the States, one such example is “civil asset forfeiture”, where a person’s assets can be seized without an accompanying charge against the person. (Technically, the defendant is the asset itself, e.g. in the case of United States v. $80,000.00 in U.S. Currency.) One instance of civil asset forfeiture can be read about here; other instances can be found through your preferred search engine.

          Other such examples include the consequences of being mistakenly put on the “no-fly list”, and (perhaps worst of all) indefinite detention through the National Defense Authorization Act, which is the figleaf that still keeps people in the Guantánamo Bay detention camp, away from legal protections that are provided to people who are physically located within the US.

        4. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          > really? can you give one example of such an instance?

          Lydia Fairchild

        5. Lil Endian

          Until fekkin what?

          1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

            Re: Until fekkin what?

            See also the tragic killing of Harry Stanley by the Metropolitan Police:


        6. SCP

          <looks at storm of examples duly provided>

          Well that escalated quickly!

    2. jpo234

      Is facial recognition worse than an old fashioned lineup or a eye witness?

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Yes because the computer 'recognised' you - although you've never been to an Apple store.

        So the police break down your door at 4:00am and assuming they don't 'accidentally' shoot your at that point you go to prison where they offer you a deal = stay in prison for months while we wait for a trial, where 12 dumb idiots will be told that the magic AI super secret algorithm says you are guilty

        1. jpo234

          And once again: Is it worse than what has basically always been there? Are human biases in human brains better than in artificial neural networks?

          Humans are notoriously bad witnesses. It does not take a lot for AI to do better.

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            You're assuming the AI does do a bit better.

          2. doublelayer Silver badge

            "And once again: Is it worse than what has basically always been there?"

            Yes. It is very much worse. Mostly because the computer has a lot less data. If you put someone in a line, the person can take their time looking at some people and try to be honest. No guarantee, but they can do it. The computer is attempting to do the same from a moving crowd, possibly getting only a few frames with moving subjects in them, and all without the instinctual visual knowledge about human faces that is learned to some extent from infancy by all humans with functioning visual organs. It's been tried, repeatedly, by different people in many places. It doesn't work.

            1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

              The two cases are different.

              The weaknesses of the ID parade are that people are trying to match a fleeting glimpse with a limited choice of people who are put in front of them. There's also the possibility of suggestion. But it's attempting one in few identifications.

              The weakness of AI, at least in mass surveillance, is that it's trying to fit faces from a large database to members of a crowd. It's attempting many to many. Even if it is better than human efforts, which remains to be proven, because it's making many orders of magnitude more comparisons.

              From a justice PoV the worry is that it will be believed because of the thought that it's "objective" and numbers can't be wrong despite just about everyone having had experience of a computer letting them down.

              1. Cuddles Silver badge

                "The weakness of AI, at least in mass surveillance, is that it's trying to fit faces from a large database to members of a crowd. It's attempting many to many."

                Exactly. It's not a question of whether AI is better, because it's being used for a different job entirely. A police lineup involves showing people the police already suspect, and attempting to match them to a single criminal. Mass facial recognition involves continuously checking every person in an area against a large set of images. The former is certainly not perfect, but even a relatively high false positive rate actually results in relatively few incorrect identifications because there's already been a lot of filtering before you reach that point. In the latter, even a low false positive rate results in a large number of incorrect arrests.

                1. SCP

                  Quite! And just imagine your defence barrister trying to explain Bayes theorem to 12 "good men and true" who could not figure out a way of getting out of jury service; or even Mr Justice Cocklecarrot.

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Maybe. Eyewitness identification is notoriously unreliable. Here's a good explanation of the issues:


          3. Lil Endian


            There have always been "good" and "bad" law enforcement officers (thank you for trying to make our world better).

            But when "computer says 'No!'" without precognisance we're fucked. So stop relying on the tech, put officers on the fucking ground.


          4. Eclectic Man Silver badge

            Batman & Robin vs Spiderwoman

            When I was a little boy, my mother (a pacifist) would not let me watch Batman on TV because it was "too violent" (how 'Tom and Jerry' got through the censor I have no idea). Anyway, I would cycle up the lane to my friend Iain's house and watch it with him.

            In one episode Batman and Robin are captured by Spiderwoman (no relation of Spider-Man or 'Kuss Der Spinnenfrau'). They are held in a web while tarantulas climb their legs, and my those tarantulas were real! (eek!).

            Several decades later, channel hopping on my TV, I happened across the same scene. The spiders were plastic, obviously plastic. So I have two memories of the same scene, one with real tarantulas and one with plastic ones. But I'm certain I'd be a completely reliable witness to real world events.

            Being 'better' than a crap witness does not equate to being a correct or reliable witness.

      2. SCP

        Whilst there are many problems with "eye witness" accounts at least the witness can be cross-examined in court.

        Furthermore, different people can provide independent corroborating or challenging evidence (provided they have not conferred beforehand) - though there could be common cognitive and perception issues that affect results (the classic 'Did you see the gorilla' experiment is an illustration of this).

        It seems to me that judges/juries are often not well informed on the reliability of either eye witness or computer based evidence (or several other types of evidence).

    3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "The technology doesn't put people in jail, the justice system puts people in jail, and the only way evidence can be used to support a conviction is if that evidence supports that conviction."

      If he evidence is from the technology and the technology is faulty then it can indeed result in wrongful convictions.

      As someone directly involved in producing evidence one of the most stressful elements in my job was the possibility of being involved in a miscarriage of justice if I got it wrong. It rather seems as if distancing from the actual business of going into court has removed that concern for those developing this sort of technology.

      In the Horizon instance the system was producing evidence of crimes were there was none. In more general situations, if there is a genuine crime and someone is wrongfully convicted it also means that the real perpetrator will have got away. That's something that should worry even the keenest advocate of raising conviction rates.

    4. doublelayer Silver badge

      "the only way evidence can be used to support a conviction is if that evidence supports that conviction. If they didn't do the crime, the evidence didn't support the conviction, some other factor - *human* factors - perverted the process."

      I tell the court that the defendant was matched with images believed to be of the perpetrator, and the algorithm concludes that they match with a confidence level of 99.4982%. This was trained on a database of seven million photos of human faces. A nontechnical juror hears these impressive numbers and assumes the computer must know what it's doing to produce such a precise number and since it had such a large dataset. The juror is not familiar with the technology and doesn't hear the facts that make this less trustworthy, namely these:

      1. The seven million photos were stolen off social media, meaning they were taken on very different cameras, subject to intentional and unintentional editing, and are of better-targeted at the subjects' faces.

      2. The images were biased toward one ethnicity causing less accuracy on those with different facial features.

      3. The software is using machine learning which can't really provide more information about how it concluded various things.

      4. The program hasn't been rigorously tested on extra information because that would require retraining which is costly.

      5. Machine learning models always produce really precise numbers.

      6. Jurors tend not to know how easy it is to do machine learning wrong.

      There are a lot of human factors there, but it's still the fault of the technology usage and can be solved by not allowing the flawed technology to be used as evidence (or at all).

      1. Eclectic Man Silver badge


        In one notorious trial, a woman was accused of killing two of her three children, who had died because of 'Sudden Infant Death Syndrome', according to the death certificates. The 'expert witness' stated that the probability of two infants dying of SIDS in the same family was 1 / 70,000,000 (one in seventy million) so she was convicted on statistical 'evidence'. However, the expert witness had not explained the working.

        Firstly SIDS is recorded when there is no other clinically discernible cause of death, so there could be a genuine medical cause, or a genetic cause which modern medicine has yet to discover. The inference in the trial was that she had suffocated her two children.

        Suppose that the probability that given a family with two or more children, two of them will die of SIDS actually is 1 / 70,000,000. You then have to consider the number of qualifying families in the UK (approximately 5 million families have 2 or more children). The UK, having a well-developed healthcare and childcare system is excellent at noticing when a child has died. So the probability of a family in the UK with 2 or more children suffering 2 cases of SIDS and being noticed is about 1 in 70 / 5, which is 1 / 14. Which I submit is inadequate to convict someone of a double murder in UK law as the requirement is 'beyond reasonable doubt'.

  4. Danny 2 Silver badge

    Fecal recognition software

    The pun demanded it happen, and now Tel Aviv is testing all dog shite for DNA to track down illegal street shit. All dogs have to submit DNA so presumably there is a Dog Shite DBA, Dog Shite data entry, and a Dog Shite Czar. Personally I wouldn't want Dog Shite on my CV, but then some of the places I've worked...

  5. 2+2=5 Silver badge

    Double jeopardy

    > "This biased software has already put people in jail for crimes they did not commit. Being vetted for our suitability to shop is an authoritarian nightmare, not the free and democratic society we want and expect."

    Shall we have a sweepstake on how long before an incident where a person is 'recognised' simultaneously committing a crime at two geographically separate stores and gets prosecuted for both?

  6. Lucy in the Sky (with Diamonds)

    Nothing to Hide...

    About a hundred years ago, Jewish people in Europe filled out census forms in the mistaken belief, that they had nothing to hide in the “Religion” or “Ethnic Group” column.

    Then a new government came to power in Germany, who said, “How Convenient” and rounded up all the people who thought they had nothing to hide.

    In store facial recognition will take this to a whole new level.

    Think of all the possibilities, especially if you are a dictatorially minded person, considering a regime change to better mankind, by weeding out the undesirables. Simply pass a law to allow the police live access to all in store footage.

    I grew up in a police state, where people were subjected to routine random ID checks on the street, and this puts them to shame. If technology like this was around then, Communism would never have collapsed, because they could have dealt with troublemakers before they had a chance to rock the boat.

    You do not know what you have to hide, until it is already too late.

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      Re: Nothing to Hide...

      You do not know what you have to hide, until it is already too late.

      Yes you do. You need to hide absolutely everything you can. The concept of ubiquitous surveillance just on the offchance that you might be doing something that the state doesn't approve of it is in itself an offence to human dignity. That a commercial company should attempt to replicate the same tracking behaviour is even more offensive, and should be terminated with extreme prejudice.


  7. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

    can be used to personalise in-store marketing and improve customer service

    Oh God, no! Just NO.

    I don't need or want personalised in-store marketing. I want to buy what I want/need from the store without being hassled. I want customer service that is available and responsive when I need help finding or returning something.

    AFR solves none of that. Fuck off with it already.

    [Icon = what should be done with AFR, especially in retail environments as a customer experience tool]

  8. Lil Endian

    FIT Watch

    We lost our "rights" in the UK pre '00 with the "Anti Terrorism Bill" (moving in to the Terrorism Act 2000). I've seen totally innocent players run down by horses for no other reason than the fuzz wanted to practise their skills.

    I don't want anarchy. I also don't want idiots thinking they know what they're doing - fekkin PHBs with a warrant card.

    "Computer says you're a nightmare" with an accuracy of.... zero percent in court IMHO.

    Stop alpha testing your fucking shit on the citizens you are protecting. (Ahem)

  9. Potemkine! Silver badge

    When AI will sort the good from the bad, good luck for the ones having an evil twin or a perfect doppleganger !

    1. Danny 2 Silver badge

      Even DNA can't differentiate an evil identical twin.

      There was a case in Scotland 15 years ago where a guy raped and nearly murdered a girl. I've got the BBC article up but I don't want to link to it because it is more distressing than you imagine.

      His first defence was to blame his twin brother. When his twin brother had an alibi his second defence was to blame a cannabis joint he'd smoked.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    When Facial Recognition Has Put People in Jail for Crimes They Did Not Commit

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