Shop owners itching to follow Foodstuffs' use of facial recognition technology - Retail NZ

Story by RNZ

Shopkeepers across the country are itching to use facial recognition technology and are keeping a close eye on a supermarket trial of the system starting today, Retail NZ says.

Up to 25 Pak'n'Save and New World supermarkets will be using the technology to try and combat rising thefts and violence against staff.

But the Privacy Commissioner fears it is not a proven tool to reduce harm in stores and worries about the privacy implications, as well as its poor performance internationally on people of colour.

In 2022, Foodstuffs was found to have already started using the the technology in some stores, but turned it off in the lead-up to this trial.

Retail NZ Chief Executive Carolyn Young said the sector was watching the trial with keen interest.

"First things first, let's see how the trial goes," she said.

"I know that there's a lot of retailers waiting to see the outcomes because they are ... keen to put something in place as well."

Foodstuffs said there had been a large increase in thefts and violence against staff.

It said repeat offenders were responsible for about a third of all incidents and the technology would be used to target them.

Foodstuffs North Island's general counsel Julian Benefield said the company had consulted with the Privacy Commissioner and made some changes accordingly.

It had appointed an independent evaluator and staff who reviewed the footage would be given special training.

RNZ has asked Foodstuffs what sort of training will be given, and by whom.

It has also asked which specific stores are taking part.

Foodstuffs said all images taken would be instantly deleted unless a person had committed a crime, been aggressive, violent or threatening towards workers or customers or had actively assisted in such behaviour.

Privacy Commissioner Michael Webster said he was worried about what the software meant for Māori, Pasifika, Indian and Asian shoppers, since the software was not trained on the New Zealand population.

He said he would keep a close eye on the trial, which will run for six months.

The trial will run for six months.

Meanwhile, number plate cameras are also already being used by retailers to spot shoplifters, and by police.