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RiteAid banned from using facial recognition tech for five years

Another victory squeaking in under the wire in 2023

For years, Fight has been campaigning against the use of creepy and intrusive facial recognition surveillance in retail stores. Now, we’re happy to report that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) just came down hard on the tech. On December 19, the FTC issued an order banning pharmacy chain Rite Aid from using the tech for five years, and sent a stern warning to other companies basically telling them to knock it off…or else.

Speaking to the Washington Post about this victory, Fight director Evan Greer said that “the message to corporate America is clear: ‘stop using discriminatory and invasive facial recognition now, or get ready to pay the price.’” The Post article details several cases from the FTC complaint, including that RiteAid searched an 11-year-old girl due to a false facial recognition match. The encounter left her so distraught that her mother had to miss work. In another case, RiteAid employees “called the police on a Black customer after the technology mistook her for the actual target, a White woman with blond hair.”

What now?

The hope is that such actions by the FTC send a strong message to other major retail chains in the U.S. employing or pursuing facial recognition technology: don’t do it.

According to the Washington Post, FTC Commissioner Alvaro Bedoya called the Rite Aid case “part of a broader trend of algorithmic unfairness” and noted “there are some decisions that should not be automated at all; many technologies should never be deployed in the first place.” Bedoya concludes that legislators should write laws that protect people against biometric surveillance.

Indeed, the proliferation of surveillance technology, including biometric and facial recognition technology, poses a threat to the basic rights of ordinary people, especially minorities, people of color, and other groups that experience higher levels of discrimination. Strong privacy laws and limits on surveillance technology are desperately needed to protect people from discrimination, wrongful arrest, and violations of privacy.

What other chains use Facial Recognition Tech?

Home Depot, Albertsons, and Macy’s currently use facial recognition technology. Check out Fight for the Future’s scorecard page to find out what other chains might use the technology and let them know how you feel about facial recognition tech in stores.

Thanks for reading Touch Grass. We’ll see you here for more tech, politics, and culture-related musings in the new year!