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Calgary malls use facial recognition to track shoppers’ age, gender without consent

At least two Calgary malls are using facial recognition technology to track shoppers’ ages and genders without first notifying them or obtaining their explicit consent.

A visitor to Chinook Centre in south Calgary spotted a browser window that had seemingly accidentally been left open on one of the mall’s directories, exposing facial-recognition software that was running in the background of the digital map. They took a photo and posted it to the social networking site Reddit on Tuesday.

The mall’s parent company, Cadillac Fairview, said the software, which they began using in June, counts people who use the directory and predicts their approximate age and gender, but does not record or store any photos or video from the directory cameras.

Cadillac Fairview said the software is also used at Market Mall in northwest Calgary, and other malls nationwide.

“We don’t require consent, because we’re not capturing or retaining images,” a Cadillac Fairview spokesperson said.

The software could, for example, say approximately how many men in their 60s used the directory, but not store images of those men’s faces or collect any other biometric data, the spokesperson said.

Instead, they said the data is used in aggregate to understand directory usage patterns to “create a better shopper experience.”

The use of facial recognition software in retail spaces is becoming commonplace to analyze shopper behaviour, sell targeted space to advertisers, or for security reasons like identifying shoplifters.

t can also be used to identify and profile people by race or ethnic group, or even recognize individuals’ faces and connect those faces with data collected by other means.

Chinook Fairview said currently the only data they collect is the number of shoppers and their approximate age and gender, but most facial recognition software can be easily adapted to collect additional data points, according to privacy advocates.

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