As each week passes, slick salespeople flog new “miracle” surveillance cameras. Here, a report indicates national chain stores are installing devices that analyse shoppers emotions, pick their gender, guess their age, deduce their mood. As CLA’s National Media Director, Tim Vines, points out, shops infringe people’s privacy if a person’s image is used for a purpose they are not aware of.
Shoppers face a camera test
Perth retailers are using sophisticated facial recognition technology to analyse shoppers’ emotions. The futuristic technology, released by [a security firm] last month, can also track the direction customers walk around stores, how long they stand in front of products and demographics such as age and gender. It is the first technology used in Australia capable of detecting emotions.
[The firm’s] national retail manager said about 50 WA shops, mostly national chains stores, used the system. He said cameras were placed around the store to determine whether a customer was happy, sad, angry or surprised. “To detect emotion we primarily focus on the eyes and lips and match the subject’s current emotive state against a database of thousands of pre-qualified facial samples,” [he] said.
At least three expressions were needed for the positive identification of an emotion. A software program analysed the images to create a report which helped retailers make changes to improve shopping, he said. For example, the retailer could put more staff on at times when customers looked angry at checkouts or position products based on reactions to displays.
[He] said the technology was popular with department, electronics and shoe stores in Perth. Retail Traders Association WA executive director Wayne Spencer said the system could help shops battle tough economic conditions and lure customers back from online shopping. However, he believed smaller stores would be better off talking to customers or simply watching them.
He applauded the security benefits because the system could spot trends, patterns and abnormalities in behaviour to combat shoplifting.
[The firm manager] said Big Brother concerns were not warranted because the footage was not recorded. A spokesman for Police Minister Rob Johnson said there was no legal requirement in State legislation for shop owners to warn people they were being filmed.
Civil Liberties Australia director Tim Vines said the Federal Privacy Act required businesses to ensure customers were aware of the purposes for which the information was collected. However, enforcement needed to be stronger.
“People expect that when they go into a public space or shopping centres there are going to be cameras around,” he said. “But the issue remains that while it may be strictly lawful, it is still an infringement of that individual’s privacy if their image is used for a purpose they are not aware of.”
– report by Kate Bastians, The West, 5 Nov 2011