Will COVID-19 give facial recognition a second look?

Discussion
Source: PopID video
Aug 10, 2020
Tom Ryan

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.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see facial-recognition technology offering solutions to the newer challenges facing retail due to COVID-19? Will the pandemic accelerate its acceptance for use at the store level?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"This is just getting creepier and creepier. No one needs to pay for a purchase with their face."
"Culture and local/government policy swings wide on the sentiment to answer this question, as does age and generational outlook."
"Pandora’s Box was opened with the emergence of this technology. It will not be legislated away. Its value for security and protection is simply too great."

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16 Comments on "Will COVID-19 give facial recognition a second look?"


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Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

Facial-recognition is a slippery slope, and retailers should be cautious about deploying this type of technology. While facial recognition may be helpful during the pandemic, there are other methods for ensuring a safe store environment that don’t rely on facial recognition technology. The pandemic has most certainly accelerated the acceptance of all sorts of new processes and protocols, but I don’t believe the benefits outweigh the potential risks with facial recognition.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

The main issue with facial recognition is privacy. Where consumers expressly give permission for the technology to be used, as many do with Apple, I don’t see an issue. However, where the technology is applied and used covertly, there will be problems. This is especially so as the technology is not perfect and can make mistakes. This will undoubtedly be one of the big technology battlegrounds of the future as privacy and data technology are pitched against each other.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

This is just getting creepier and creepier. No one needs to pay for a purchase with their face.

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

I agree but have no doubt there will be those who think this is a cool idea and will gladly sign up. No doubt they will not have read the fine print that says by doing so they have granted permission for their personal information to be sold, etc.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Exactly!

Adrian Weidmann
BrainTrust

Pandora’s Box was opened with the emergence of this technology. It will not be legislated away. Its value for security and protection is simply too great. It is important to distinguish between facial recognition and facial detection. While the core technology is the same – facial recognition requires a database of actual faces and attribution data in order to “recognize” a particular face – a specific individual. Facial detection simply recognizes what is a face but does not link it to a specific individual. From a privacy perspective, these are two very different use cases. The challenge is not only understanding the difference but trusting the retailer using the technology for different purposes. Amazon already knows more about your behavior than you could imagine, but not many people seem to mind that.

Laura Davis-Taylor
BrainTrust

Right Adrian, spot on.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

Although I’ve built applications using facial recognition and never had an issue, many platforms have been pulled back because they fail at properly identifying people of color and sometimes make gender mistakes.

Is this supposed to happen with masks on – nearly impossible, or masks off – violating the logic of wearing masks?

There seems to be something more going on here.

Brent Biddulph
BrainTrust

While facial-recognition is widely accepted in Asia, it is likely years away from potential adoption in Western cultures.

However computer vision (streaming video analytics) is not only well underway in Western retail environments, but a game-changer for traditional retailers to better monitor inventory levels, improve merchandising execution, improve in-store shopper experiences via friction-less checkout, and enable more responsive customer service capabilities.

In regard to COVID-19 specifically, computer vision is being used to “anonymously” monitor one-way foot traffic, social distancing and sanitation efforts to help ensure both shopper and employee safety. And if governmental regulations for opening physical locations require some level of compliance measurement (e.g. penalties), those retailers using computer vision today already have a significant market advantage over those who do not.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

More than one prominent technology firm has announced they are not pursuing facial recognition technology recently. This trend as well as current social anxiety (to put it mildly) are factors that will limit this technology’s potential in the foreseeable future. Who knows where this world will be in two years, however.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

Computer vision used to anonymously identify shoppers for experiential and contactless payment services will continue to gain traction with consumers and therefore gain acceptance and tolerance. However these applications are very overt, obvious, and intentionally used by consumers. Where the slippery slope takes effect is when facial recognition is used to track people covertly regardless of the justification, including security cameras. This is much less likely to achieve mass acceptance at this time with consumers. The privacy concerns are too strong for most people and so far no one has presented answers to these concerns that satisfy most people. This is an area where retailers need to tread cautiously.

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

There is a clear friction reward principle at play with facial recognition. If consumers aren’t concerned about privacy and allow retailers to leverage facial recognition technologies, then perhaps the perception is that there will truly be a seamless, touchless commerce experience. There is clearly a consumer choice at play here, and you are able to opt in or out of the experience.

Aside from the security and safety of the Apple operating system, and their latest iPhone 11 facial recognition technologies, there is not a widespread need or consumer demand yet. Also, the COVID-19 Great Acceleration has disrupted the shopping experiences, and most of the commodity-based products are bought strictly online.

Besides, with omnipresent masks, facial recognition technologies are completely irrelevant until the pandemic’s impacts subside.

Brett Busconi
Guest

Many concerns voiced about this in the past, but I think the answer to both of the questions posed here is “yes.” The most obvious issue to me is that having masks on may significantly impact the efficacy of some of the technology.

Laura Davis-Taylor
BrainTrust
This is certainly a hotly debated topic right now. However, we have to remember that we’re having a global conversation here. Culture and local/government policy swings wide on the sentiment to answer this question, as does age and generational outlook. Being thick in the midst of this world, the challenge is also the accuracy — it’s not perfect. There’s also an emerging backlash, including a group from the University of Chicago that took it upon themselves to develop a tool that disguises photos to confuse facial recognition systems (they do it with subtle pixel-level changes). There are many ways to self identify with an opt in, using an app with a barcode, ID cards, and biometrics that don’t involve a face and ensure accuracy. There’s also a huge difference in doing these things anonymously (as an unknown visitor) versus recognition (as a known visitor) and it’s worthy of treading this terrain carefully. It all comes down to trust, and every study I’ve personally been part of regarding this topic unveiled that the trust issue was… Read more »
Craig Sundstrom
Guest

I don’t see COVID-19 as having much to with any of the issues discussed; indeed, with people wearing masks, I would think it’s even less useful than it would otherwise be. It’s probably useful for police states to track people, since the inevitable errors are ignored, but as noted, such usage has little application in North America.

The technology continues to struggle to find acceptance and for an obvious reason: it only works if it’s accompanied with massive data (of personal info) that few people here would be comfortable with.

Casey Craig
BrainTrust

Facial recognition technology is a great example of how the coronavirus has accelerated digital trends. We may start to see increased use of this technology as we continue to look for options to help retailers find alternative solutions for transactions. Ultimately, however, customers — not retailers — will decide the fate of facial recognition in stores. What level of privacy would customers sacrifice in the name of convenience, health and safety? If consumers feel that a store’s use of this technology oversteps these lines, that will show in the bottom line. Customers today only stand by brands they trust.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"This is just getting creepier and creepier. No one needs to pay for a purchase with their face."
"Culture and local/government policy swings wide on the sentiment to answer this question, as does age and generational outlook."
"Pandora’s Box was opened with the emergence of this technology. It will not be legislated away. Its value for security and protection is simply too great."

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