Last Thursday we published the news that Mercadona has installed facial recognition systems in some supermarkets with various objectives. After the initial impact, there were many doubts that arose in this regard, especially due to the precedents that have been experienced with this technology and the intense debate about the privacy that it arouses.
Mercadona reported that the supermarkets where the facial recognition system will work are located in Mallorca, Zaragoza and Valencia. Clients are analyzed in 0.3 seconds and the biometric data is contrasted with their files. If the alarm does not go off, the collected information is erased; otherwise, the authorities are notified.
From here, the assessment and the questions to ask depend on each one, as it has been seen on social networks, where the topic has been debated with intensity. However, what do we know about these systems?
The first problem that arises is the efficiency of this technology, which has continued to be questioned due to the false positives it usually gives. In Maldita they have interviewed Gemma Galdón, director of the Ethics consultancy and expert in algorithmic auditing, and affirms that “the studies we have tell us that facial recognition does not work: in laboratory conditions we see error rates of 30% but in the real life where people move, wear glasses, change their hairstyle or grimace, those errors are stratospheric, we are talking about 90% or more of false positives ”.
But the big question that still exists is where Mercadona has obtained the biometric data of all the people who have a history in its supermarkets. Any information extracted by the system must be checked against a database, but its origin is unknown and has not yet been clarified.
In Business Insider Spain they have investigated the company with which they have contracted these systems, AnyVision, and this has not been far from controversial. After discovering that it was being used to monitor Palestinians in the West Bank, Microsoft announced that it was withdrawing the investments it had in it. Soon after, IBM and Amazon did too.
But on a practical level, can Mercadona use customer data? Whether collected or not, studying customer biometric information involves dealing with data. Unfortunately, as it happens in many countries, at the moment in Spain there is a legal vacuum in this regard and it is difficult to give a clear answer. Should Mercadona inform about it? Have you already done it in supermarkets where the system is active?
In short, beyond the press release, the most important data regarding installed technology has not been clarified and Mercadona has not responded clearly to questions from the media. Much remains to be known about this innovative proposal that the company has made, and it should be known soon.