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CHOICE reveals Kmart, Bunnings and The Good Guys are using facial recognition technology on unsuspecting customers

More than three in four Australians unaware businesses are capturing their faceprint.

Most customers miss these small signs when shopping at Kmart.

A CHOICE investigation into Australia's 25 biggest and most trusted retailers has revealed that Kmart, Bunnings and The Good Guys are using facial recognition technology to identify customers who enter selected stores. 

Facial recognition analyses images from video cameras to capture each person's unique facial features, known as a faceprint. 

"The use of facial recognition by Kmart, Bunnings and The Good Guys is a completely inappropriate and unnecessary use of the technology. To make matters worse, we found 76% of Australians aren't aware that retailers are capturing their unique facial features in this way," says CHOICE consumer data advocate, Kate Bower. 

"Using facial recognition technology in this way is similar to Kmart, Bunnings or The Good Guys collecting your fingerprints or DNA every time you shop. Businesses using invasive technologies to capture their customers' sensitive biometric information is unethical and is a sure way to erode consumer trust."

CHOICE's nationally representative survey also revealed: 

  • More than four in five (83%) agreed retailers must properly inform customers about their use of facial recognition technology.
  • Nearly four in five (78%) had concerns about how their biometric data was being stored.
  • Three in four (75%) were concerned companies would use their data to create customer profiles for the purposes of marketing or profit.

"CHOICE observed that Kmart and Bunnings display small signs at the entrance of stores where the technology is in use. However, discreet signage and online privacy policies are not nearly enough to adequately inform shoppers that this controversial technology is in use. The technology is capturing highly personal data from customers, including infants and children," says Bower.

CHOICE is referring the retailers to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) to investigate potential breaches of the Privacy Act, and calling on the Federal government to implement a modern regulatory framework that protects consumers from harmful and unfair practices. 

"CHOICE is concerned that Australian businesses are using facial recognition technology on consumers before Australians have had their say on its use in our community. With the government currently undergoing a review of the Privacy Act, now is the perfect time to strengthen measures around the capture and use of consumer data, including biometric data," says Bower. 

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Editor's notes: 

How did we conduct our investigation? 

CHOICE asked 25 leading Australian retailers whether they used facial recognition technology, and we analysed their privacy policies. Based on the responses we received and privacy policies, Kmart, Bunnings and The Good Guys appear to be the only three that are capturing the biometric data of their customers. Bunnings confirmed the use of facial recognition technology while Kmart and The Good Guys did not respond to CHOICE's request.

How did we conduct our survey? 

CHOICE Consumer Pulse March 2022 is based on a survey of 1,034 Australian households. Quotas were applied for representations in each age group as well as genders and location to ensure coverage in each state and territory across metropolitan and regional areas. Fieldwork was conducted from the 22nd of March to 7th of April 2022.