How Kmart Is Covertly Violating Customer Privacy

Learn of the exceedingly disturbing way Kmart and others stores are covertly violating its customers' privacy.

By Joseph Farago | Published


Facial recognition is a futuristic concept being implemented in businesses nationwide. For certain department stores, this technology is being used without the consumers’ knowledge or consent. In Australia, a privacy group led an investigation on local retailers to see who was utilizing this technology. Kmart, Bunnings, and The Good Guys are a few of the department stores in the country that are capturing people’s faces and storing them.

Kmart and other retailers could be in hot water as this privacy investigation continues. Stores that are implementing facial recognition to capture faces, known as a “faceprint,” could breach privacy laws in Australia. The biometric data is then stored in the retailers’ databases and used for marketing or security reasons. Frequently, retailers disclose that they’re using facial recognition, but it’s extremely hard to find the policies that say so. A privacy policy could be placed in small print on a store poster or inconspicuously on a retailer’s website. Not making the information sufficiently known to customers could leave department stores vulnerable to fines and other lawful repercussions.

A consumer group in Australia surveyed more than 1,000 locals to see if they knew stores were using facial recognition technology. Almost 80% of the people surveyed had no idea that retailers like Kmart were using that software to store their faceprints. Most respondents said negative things about the software, and 65% added that faceprints could be used to make misinformed and dangerous customer profiles. Especially when media groups and businesses are selling customer data for a significant profit, customers know that corporations historically have misused and exploited private information.

A professor of media studies at Monash University, Mark Andrejevic, had a pessimistic outlook on the progression of facial recognition technology. As the tech becomes more widely available and cheaper, more businesses will start to apply facial recognition to advance their customer profiling. Though Andrejevic isn’t as against facial technology as most unassuming consumers, he stated that the primary problem is “notice and consent.” The issue isn’t that department stores like Kmart aren’t displaying the fact that they’re using facial recognition, but that it’s often veiled or hidden from plain sight. Forcing retailers and other companies to showcase their privacy policies explicitly would help consumers understand the faceprint software, allowing them to make informed decisions before entering a store.

Alongside Kmart, Australia’s premier hardware company Bunnings was found to use extensive facial recognition technology in its stores. COO Simon McDowell wasn’t too happy with the exposure, stating that the investigation was “inaccurate” and displayed the company in a harmful light. He said that the software is being used for security measures after an increased number of aggressive interactions between customers and employees. McDowell explained that customer profiles are reserved for those banned from the store, while children’s images are not stored at all.

Still, companies like Kmart, which are using facial recognition surveillance, could be breaching Australia’s Privacy Act. Under the law, biometric data, including faceprints, need to be highly regulated versus other private information. A business must prove that the faceprints it collects are for an essential purpose and that it doesn’t outweigh the potential harm of storing that data.