Retailers join forces to counter a surge in shoplifting – but raising more questions

Madeleine Stone, of the campaign group Big Brother Watch, is concerned about the slow creep of facial recognition technology.

“It is unacceptable to have police and private companies writing their own rules on the use of such a powerful surveillance technology,” she says. “We urgently need a democratic, lawful approach to the role of facial biometrics in Britain, but so far there hasn’t even been a parliamentary debate on it.”

Glad they devoted 3 whole sentences about this more than halfway down the article /s

Also, no mention of machine learning training bias or false positive rates of the existing technology? There’s so much which could have been fleshed out in this article.

but so far there hasn’t even been a parliamentary debate on it.

Because the longer they take to legislate it, the more intrusive they can permanently be.


There was a case in Canada a few years ago

Report from the privacy commissioner:

Customers not aware that their sensitive biometrics information was gathered

October 29, 2020 – Cadillac Fairview – one of North America’s largest commercial real estate companies – embedded cameras inside their digital information kiosks at 12 shopping malls across Canada and used facial recognition technology without their customers’ knowledge or consent, an investigation by the federal, Alberta and BC Privacy Commissioners has found.

The goal, the company said, was to analyze the age and gender of shoppers and not to identify individuals. Cadillac Fairview also asserted that shoppers were made aware of the activity via decals it had placed on shopping mall entry doors that referred to their privacy policy – a measure the Commissioners determined was insufficient.

Cadillac Fairview also asserted that it was not collecting personal information, since the images taken by camera were briefly analyzed then deleted. However, the Commissioners found that Cadillac Fairview did collect personal information, and contravened privacy laws by failing to obtain meaningful consent as they collected the 5 million images with small, inconspicuous cameras. Cadillac Fairview also used video analytics to collect and analyze sensitive biometric information of customers.

And guess what. They’ll keep at it unless at least one of them goes to prison.

They will still keep it, they will just hide it better.


Cadillac Fairview also asserted that shoppers were made aware of the activity via decals it had placed on shopping mall entry doors that referred to their privacy policy

They should get fined for an answer like that. Seriously.


My hope is that dumb responses like that will increase the chance of an unfavorable decision for them


Unfortunately, its not clear if masks actually stop facial recognition. I think it helps, but not probably not as well as it did before covid.


Yes, agreed, it’s a matter of degrees. It’s chipping away at the identifying information we’re allowing out. It’s sad that it’s being abused for profit, but here we are.

It depends on the mask in this case e.g., a full face mask is going to be more effective than a half face mask. Walking around under a sheet with holes in it will also hamper gait analysis, but then you’re the only one walking around in a sheet.

Edit: the answer is clearly free burqas for all.

Mask+sunglasses+my really cool hat.

I had have to find a really cool hat. What’s the most common hat?

In one store, he says one in four customers were stealing something before the technology was rolled out.

So far, more surveillance has not stopped shoplifting. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show retail theft rose by 22pc in the year to September.

If 1 in 4 people are stealing then there’s some major problems going on. I really wish they’d mention what products are getting stolen.

Baby formula, laundry detergent, and food I bet.

Inb4 someone claims that all of that being stolen is being used to make drugs somehow.

Baby formula was a big one during COVID’s early stages, to resell. That’s not okay with me.

Stealing it because you need it for your baby? Completely based.

Stealing is bad no matter what it is. It starts small and escilates with time

You’re right. There is a lot of theft going on, and it goes unpunished.

For Facewatch’s Gordon, the argument against using the technology is weak. “Normal customers aren’t going to be tracked and traced. The idea that they are is complete rubbish."

In other words: Yes we have the means, but the idea we would abuse profitable data already available to us is absurd.

At least this is working as intended:

Supermarkets gripe that data protection laws are an obstacle. Walker says that GDPR laws have prevented managers at different Iceland stores from sharing photos of shoplifters across WhatsApp groups


Mask up.

Nkiru Anaya

I wondered if there are other means, beside a mask or face cover, to not be seen. Like some sort of cream you put on, like you would sunscreen, that somehow tricks the camera recognition tools. ???

Remember when new technology seemed exciting and fun instead of “how will this further fuck us over so frequent flyers to Little St. James can have another glass-bottomed yacht?” epsteingelion

another excellent reason to always wear a mask in enclosed spaces

Given how fabulously facial recognition works if you aren’t white, I predict nothing but good outcomes from this anti-crime venture.

That’s going to be hard with a mask on

I know this is a privacy sub but I say bring it on, I’m tired of people shoplifting and thinking it’s ok. Food is one thing but I was in the cosmetics aisle at Walmart a few days ago and counted at least 7 security tags that had been ripped off of press on nails. If you are lifting food, formula, diapers, that’s one thing but if you aren’t doing it to survive then fuck you for making everything more expensive for the rest of us.

What are you on about? The entire capitalist system is based on theft from the workers. To even be a capitalist means you gave someone less than the value they produced during the time they worked.

If they didn’t want us taking back what’s rightfully ours then they shouldn’t have stolen from us in the first place.

Why do people keep defending the parasites?

You’re incredibly naive if you think stealing from our corporate overlords will force change in any significant way other than driving consumer cost up as they socialize their losses.

There’s right and wrong. Stealing is wrong. It doesn’t take a genius to figure this out.

If you really cared about the workers you wouldn’t steal their products.

Lexi Sneptaur

Don’t engage with this person, you will lose the argument because nothing you say will convince them. Stop worrying about rich corpos getting rinsed and start worrying about policy that would address the cause of crimes like these.

‘Never argue with an idiot. They will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.’ - Mark Twain.

Of course theft is bad, but is eroding privacy the necessary evil to solve the problem?

In the US (I couldn’t find UK numbers but don’t know where to look), the National Retail Federation’s 2022 security report did find external theft is the biggest cause of shrink at 37% while theft of inventory by employees and loss of inventory by corporate mismanagement adding up to 54%. [1] If companies are losing more inventory through their own mismanagement than they are from people coming into the store and stealing, should this technology be the priority?

Really, if anything is the take away from the report (this is probably more US specific and not as applicable in the UK), it’s that there has been an increase in violence and aggression in their stores over the last couple years. With regards to the always running facial recognition, I don’t see how that will make a significant impact of violence and organized retail crime.

Obviously retail in the UK is going to be different, but this technology seems to be best suited for non-violent shoplifters, and that might not actually be a whole lot in the grand scheme of things, especially to warrant draconian measures.

[1] Retail Security Survey Organized Retail Crime 2022.pdf


What are you tired of? People stealing from faceless corporations that destabilize countries (Chiquita), let their employees die over profits (Amazon), treat their employees like slave labour (McDonals), and on and on.

You’re tired of people stealing from them? What are your values exactly? Bend over and let the companies write your laws so you can feel good at night hitting your pillow knowing that Bob across the street got locked up for not reporting his second car? That will teach him!

Buddy. You need to do some serious thinking about your priorities in life.

I was with you until you said McDonald’s. Everyone I’ve known who worked there said it was a good gig


No one who actually worked there would say this.

Well you’re wrong. I’ve known lots of people who have worked there and it has a reputation of being one of the better FF places to work. Maybe it’s different in America…

You’re pretty ruled up and into heavy exaggeration territory at this point.

If you are stealing to survive its much more realistic to focus on higher value products you can resell for cash than to try stealing the specific things you need. It’s both more efficient and less likely to get you caught.

You could be a pedophile and therefore you don’t deserve privacy. Please post in this thread your address, phone number, and all your passwords. I’m waiting.

I agree.

Also DA who don’t prosecute petty theft.

I have no idea who would downvote you or why.

Theft creates conditions that encourage the publicizing of personal data. It is an anti-pattern to privacy.


Theft creates conditions that encourage the publicizing of personal data. It is an anti-pattern to privacy.

Pfft! Like they wouldn’t find some other pretense if theft wasn’t a thing.

They don’t collect this data because of shoplifters, that’s a convenient excuse. They collect this data because it is useful to them from a marketing perspective. To know who is looking at what products like they might be interested, mixed with demographic information. Companies go nuts for this kind of data.

That’s not how marketing works. People don’t sell you things you want, they try to sell you things you don’t want. That is what makes it so ahitty.

Skilled marketers try to identify the needs of the consumers that use their products so they can offer even more relevant products and find opportunities to upsell. Ideally, they try to create positive brand impressions with their marketing touchpoints, only reaching out with information that is timely and relevant. Bad marketers just play the numbers game by spamming inboxes and throwing everything against the wall until something sticks.

100% data driven marketing is not about reaching people who are or will be consuming, it is reaching people who aren’t => selling things to people who don’t want to be sold. Keeping sold is a diff matter.

That’s what makes this big data so discouraging, if I look at a beer, it is more likely marketing teams will try to reach me on lateral data topics (would you like a gym membership?) that have nothing to do with beer vs “hey here’s a coupon for 5% off”.


That is not how marketing for a retail store works at all! They’d put themselves out of business by pulling that shit.

They want to gauge what you are interested in for a number of reasons:

  1. purchasing frequency. Do people who buy this product tend to do so as a repeat purchase or as one-off purchases? If you know this you can adjust discounts to pull in more people that would otherwise make this purchase at a different store.

  2. purchasing correlation. So you’ve bought a new Xbox. What else do you want to buy alongside it? Games and controllers of course! There are a ton of other, less obvious correlated purchases out there, and this is great information for bundling promotions.

  3. attention span: does this product actually get people’s attention? Seems pretty obvious why they want this data.

  4. does said attention translate into purchases? If not, why not? Might be an ideal target for a targeted survey later. Can be used to justify replacing a product on store shelves.

  5. customer metrics: provides accurate information about the activity going on in the store, what times are the busiest, which times are the lull hours, and accurate headcounts for number of customers.

Why are the things I want on the top or bottom shelf and the things I don’t want on end caps or the middle of the shelf?

Impulse purchases. You’re there looking for a thing that brings you to an area, put something tangentially related in easy view nearby. It’s the same sort of thing as why there are single serve candy and soda at the checkout ‘cheap, easy, convinient’ on items that will generally have high margin to them.

Maybe / maybe not

Companies pay to place their product that may or may not sell, c/o inventory discount.

Remember, in a perfect world, advertising to someone who will neither purchase more nor less is wasted advertising.

Marketing is not about what you want, but influencing you to do things that you aren’t doing already, or to keep you doing something you are about to stop.

A place to discuss privacy and freedom in the digital world.

Privacy has become a very important issue in modern society, with companies and governments constantly abusing their power, more and more people are waking up to the importance of digital privacy.

In this community everyone is welcome to post links and discuss topics related to privacy.

Some Rules

  • Posting a link to a website containing tracking isn’t great, if contents of the website are behind a paywall maybe copy them into the post
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  • If you have a question, please try searching for previous discussions, maybe it has already been answered
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