Foodstuffs’ Facial Recognition Trial Aims to Tackle Retail Crime Crisis


  • Foodstuffs’ FR trial targets known offenders to enhance store safety by respecting customer privacy.
  • Independent evaluation guides decisions on FR tech, balancing security and privacy concerns.
  • Transparent approach and public awareness key to Foodstuffs’ proactive response to retail crime.

In response to a surge in retail crime across New Zealand, Foodstuffs North Island has initiated a trial of facial recognition (FR) technology in 25 out of its 320 stores located in the North Island. The trial, launched in February, is part of an effort to combat a concerning trend of over 500 reported breaches of trespass and numerous assaults on staff within just three months. The implementation of FR technology seeks to address the safety concerns of both customers and employees, aiming to identify repeat offenders and prevent further incidents of crime and aggression within Foodstuffs stores.

Transparent approach and public awareness

From the outset, Foodstuffs has been transparent about the objectives and procedures of the FR trial. Prior to its launch, the company consulted with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner to establish clear parameters and ensure compliance with privacy regulations. Moreover, Foodstuffs made extensive efforts to inform the public about the trial, including providing demonstrations of the FR system to media outlets and reaching over a million individuals through media coverage. Large notices have been prominently displayed at the entrances of participating stores, outlining the trial’s purpose and informing customers of its implementation.

Addressing privacy concerns and ensuring data protection

Despite concerns raised by Consumer NZ regarding privacy and surveillance, Foodstuffs emphasizes that the FR system is designed to target known offenders only. Data collected by the FR technology is isolated within individual store systems, with no sharing of information between stores. Additionally, strict protocols are in place to immediately delete data of individuals not on the watchlist for retail crime. Foodstuffs asserts that no biometric information of citizens, particularly children under the age of 18, will be stored as part of the trial. The company underscores its commitment to maintaining a balance between enhancing store security and respecting customer privacy.

Evaluation and Future Considerations

As the trial progresses, Foodstuffs has appointed an independent evaluator to monitor its effectiveness in reducing retail crime. The company acknowledges that the technology’s impact on violence and abuse within stores is yet to be determined and underscores the trial’s exploratory nature. While focusing on preventing acts of aggression towards staff and customers, Foodstuffs emphasizes that its primary concern lies with repeat offenders who pose significant safety risks. Decisions regarding the continued use of FR technology will be made only after thorough consultation with the independent evaluator and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, ensuring that any future actions are informed by factual evidence and stakeholder input.

Foodstuffs North Island’s trial of facial recognition technology represents a proactive response to the escalating challenges of retail crime. With a clear focus on enhancing store safety and preventing incidents of violence and abuse, the company has adopted a transparent approach, prioritizing public awareness and privacy protection. As the trial progresses, Foodstuffs remains committed to evaluating the effectiveness of FR technology and making informed decisions in consultation with relevant stakeholders. By addressing concerns and maintaining a balanced approach, Foodstuffs aims to contribute to the broader efforts in combating retail crime while upholding the rights and privacy of individuals within their stores.

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Glory Kaburu

Glory is an extremely knowledgeable journalist proficient with AI tools and research. She is passionate about AI and has authored several articles on the subject. She keeps herself abreast of the latest developments in Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Deep Learning and writes about them regularly.

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