Rite Aid Banned From Facial Recognition Tech After ‘Reckless’ Use

rite aid facial recognition technology customers banned harmed harrassed

Rite Aid has been banned from using facial recognition technology for five years — after its “reckless” use harmed and harassed customers.

The pharmacy chain Rite Aid misused facial recognition technology in a way that subjected shoppers to unfair searches and humiliation, according to a landmark court case settlement announced by the company and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) last week.

According to The Washington Post, federal regulators said Rite Aid activated the face-scanning technology, which uses artificial intelligence (AI) to attempt to identify people captured by surveillance cameras, in hundreds of stores between 2012 and 2020 in hopes of cracking down on shoplifters and other “troublemakers”.

However, the FTC says that Rite Aid’s facial recognition system collected and stored images of people without their knowledge and generated thousands of false positives.

As a result, many people were erroneously accused of crimes “particularly women and people of color.”

The Washington Post reports that the chain’s “reckless” failure to adopt safeguards, along with the facial recognition technology’s long history of inaccurate matches and racial biases, led store employees to falsely accuse shoppers of theft, leading to “embarrassment, harassment, and other harm” in front of their family members.

Rite Aid’s technology scanned the faces of entering customers and searched for facial matches in a large database of suspected and confirmed shoplifters.

When the technology detected a match, it would alert store Rite Aid employees to closely watch and monitor the shopper.

However, the database used low-resolution photos taken from grainy surveillance cameras and smartphones, undermining the quality of the facial matches.

As a result, Rite Aid employees would trail customers around the store or contact the police, even if they had seen no crime take place.

Furthermore, the FTC said that Rite Aid did not tell customers it was using the technology and it instructed employees not to reveal its use to “consumers or the media.”

It Led to an Innocent 11-Year-Old Girl Being Searched

According to the federal court complaint, a Rite Aid employee searched an 11-year-old girl because of a false facial recognition match, leaving her so upset that her mother was forced to miss work.

In another case, employees called the police on a Black customer after the technology mistook her for the actual target — a White woman with blonde hair.

In a further example, Rite Aid’s facial recognition software generated more than 900 “match alerts” for a single person for five days across 130 stores all over the U.S.

In a statement, Rite Aid disagreed with some of the FTC’s allegations. The company stated that the facial recognition technology pilot program was deployed to a limited number of stores and they stopped using it three years ago — before the agency’s investigation began.

But Rite Aid says that it respects the inquiry and is “aligned with the agency’s mission to protect consumer privacy,” and is pleased to have an agreement with regulators that will “put this matter behind us.”

Image credits: Header photo licensed via Depositphotos.