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Big Brother at the Mall


Facial recognition and other technologies used by retailers.

Congress is investigating the use of advanced technology to track consumers in and around brick-and-mortar retailers.

Credit: Jason Schneider

The U.S. Congress is investigating the use of advanced technology to track consumers around brick-and-mortar retailers.

For example, cosmetics chain Sephora uses electronic Bluetooth beacons to detect customers' smartphones as they enter stores, so they can ping shoppers with promotions while they browse.

Meanwhile, facial recognition products are being promoted to retailers as a way to spot previous shoplifters, or customers who have sought refunds for stolen items.

Privacy proponents argue in-store tracking systems are as susceptible to abuse as their online counterparts, and the American Civil Liberties Union's Jay Stanley said, "We're going to need all the same protections offline that we do online."

Joseph Jerome with the Center for Democracy and Technology said the marketing of facial recognition systems to monitor customers or employees makes it increasingly likely that unregulated data-sharing cooperatives would emerge among retailers, along with accuracy concerns and the risk of unfair blacklisting.

From The Wall Street Journal
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