March 31, 2023


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Canadian mall giant collected 5 million images of shoppers through embedded cameras in info kiosks, say privacy watchdogs. These are the malls

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“Shoppers had no reason to expect their image was being collected by an inconspicuous camera, or that it would be used, with facial recognition technology, for analysis,” says Privacy Commissioner of Canada Daniel Therrien. “The lack of meaningful consent was particularly concerning given the sensitivity of biometric data, which is a unique and permanent characteristic of our body and a key to our identity.”

The mall giant defended the practice, saying it alerted shoppers by posting decals on mall entry doors that referred to their privacy policy. But the commissioners determined this insufficient. Shoppers were directed by the stickers to visit guest services to obtain a copy of the Cadillac Fairview’s privacy policy, but when investigators asked a guest services employee at one of the malls, “they were confused by the request.”

Cadillac Fairview spokesperson Jess Savage said in a statement to the CBC that the AVA technology did not store any images during the pilot program and was not capable of recognizing anyone.

“The five million representations referenced in the [Office of the Privacy Commissioner] report are not faces. These are sequences of numbers the software uses to anonymously categorize the age range and gender of shoppers in the camera’s view,” she said.

“The OPC report concludes there is no evidence that CF was using any technology for the purpose of identifying individuals.”

Cadillac Fairview removed the cameras from its digital directory kiosks in 2018 when the commissioners launched the probe. It has no current plans to reinstall the technology.