Retailers face backlash for unchecked facial recognition use leading to false arrests

The news: A coalition of civil rights organizations is demanding that retailers stop using facial recognition because the technology leads to abuses and wrongful arrests, per Bloomberg. More than 35 organizations joined the campaign and singled out various large retailers.

How we got here: Retailers use facial recognition to identify known shoplifters as well as to give preferential treatment to big spenders.

  • Activists argue that the technology facilitates the exclusion of low-income shoppers as well as worker exploitation and reporting of undocumented workers to immigration. Various cities and states continue to push back against the use of facial recognition.
  • Facial recognition has drawn increasing global criticism from privacy and civil rights groups. The technology has disproportionately misidentified minorities and people of color.
  • Detroit has implemented Project Green Light, which places surveillance cameras with facial recognition in more than 700 businesses. Robert Williams was arrested last year in Detroit after a facial recognition system misidentified him as a suspect. It’s the second recent case of Detroit Police’s facial recognition leading to a false arrest.

The takeaway: Since retailers are on private property, they are not bound by state or local regulations banning facial recognition. To date, only Portland, Oregon has included private businesses in its facial recognition ban. At most, the continuing backlash can increase awareness of the use of this technology and its consequences.