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7-Eleven Australia Ends Facial Recognition in Stores

In a highly controversial move, 7-Eleven Australia recently rolled out a facial recognition program within stores throughout the country. While stores displayed new signs with vague warnings of facial recognition on the property, most had no idea how – or for what reason – their facial images were being scanned, processed, and stored.

The Reason

According to a spokesperson with 7-Eleven Australia, the reason for the new facial recognition program is simple: it’s a key component of their “Rate It” customer experience benchmarking tool. The spokesperson went on to clarify various questions, stating that the data is not used for any other purposes and that employees never have access to the data.

Moreover, their facial image capture software is limited exclusively to their in-store tablets. While these tablets have been used for some time, primarily as a means of letting shoppers complete customer satisfaction surveys, they’ve only recently received the upgrade to allow for facial recognition.

Building a Database

The tablets, which were featured in no less than 700 stores, first captured the customer’s facial image as soon as they pick up the tablet. It captures another image after the completion of their digital survey. Each facial image, or faceprint, is stored on the tablet for approximately 20 seconds. It is then uploaded to a secure, Azure-based server in Australia.

From there, each image is stored on the server for a total of seven days. This gives data scientists the chance to correct any errors and process the information as needed. It’s also important to note that the facial scans are uploaded as algorithmic representations rather than actual images.

Once the processing is complete, 7-Eleven utilized the data to build a complete profile of every customer who successfully finished their survey. Consent was also required from each user, which provided notice regarding the collection of photographic and biometric data.

The move, although highly controversial, was done for multiple reasons. Firstly, it was done to streamline the customer experience and make it easier for shoppers to express any concerns they may have.

A 7-Eleven spokesperson recently stated: “We are replacing the outdated practice of having people with a clipboard and pencil with a tablet so customers can give us immediate feedback on their experience in real time and allow us to act on our learnings swiftly at a store level.”

Coming to a Quick End

The new move by 7-Eleven only lasted from June 2020 to August 2021. It was then that 7-Eleven was ordered to cease their collection of facial images, also known as faceprints, immediately. They were also required to destroy any and all faceprints they had previously collected.

Such declarations were made by Angelene Falk, both Information Commissioner and Privacy Commissioner with the Australian government. She argued that the facial data collected by 7-Eleven amounted to sensitive information. Perhaps even more importantly, she argued that 7-Eleven failed to receive proper consent from their customers prior to each survey.

Falk was quoted as saying: ''“While I accept that implementing systems to understand and improve customers' experience is a legitimate function for 7-Eleven's business, any benefits to the business in collecting this biometric information were not proportional to the impact on privacy.”''


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