Retail has found new purpose in facial recognition during the coronavirus crisis for its potential to support contact-free payments, temperature checks, mask-detection and surveillance.
Pasadena last week reportedly became the first U.S. city to introduce a facial recognition payment network with 25 retailers signing on. Shoppers can order and pay without having to use a credit card and gain quick access to their loyalty accounts. They can opt-in or out of the technology.
Biometric recognition enables retailers to give workers quick temperature checks in order to reduce COVID-19 risks.
Stores can also take shoppers’ temperatures and numerous articles have explored the advantages such automated technologies would have over holding a temperature gun to someone’s forehead prior to entry.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the New York Mets and the Los Angeles Football Club are testing biometric screening for contactless entry into their stadiums as well as to measure a fan’s temperature and determine whether they’re wearing a mask.
Using facial recognition technology to track the spread of the coronavirus is reportedly fairly common in South Korea, Singapore and China, although contact tracing would face significant privacy hurdles in the U.S.
Last week, Macy’s was hit by a class-action lawsuit in Illinois for allegedly violating state laws in using facial recognition software to identify shoppers from security camera footage. The plaintiff in the complaint charged that Macy’s profited off stolen data and could “stalk or track” customers, violating their privacy.
The technology has largely been used at retail to reduce shoplifting, especially tracking repeat offenders. Advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning are enabling retailers to experiment in other areas.
A study from ECR Retail Loss Group based on a survey of 22 large retailers in the U.S. and Europe undertaken just prior to COVID-19 found respondents highly interested in facial recognition’s crime-prevention potential but concerned over brand reputation risks and costs.
ECR’s study said facial recognition is “currently at the ‘frontier’ of public acceptability” while also noting the roll out of CCTV in in the early 1990s and RFID in the early 2000s both initially faced pushback but have become “simply just another part of the ‘modern’ world.”