Retailers in Australia are the latest companies to back away from facial recognition, albeit under pressure. The Guardian reports Kmart and Bunnings have temporarily halted use of facial recognition in their local stores while the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) investigates the privacy implications of their systems. The two chains were trialing the technology to spot banned customers, prevent refund fraud and reduce theft. The investigation started in mid-July, a month after the consumer advocacy group Choice learned that Kmart and Bunnings were testing facial recognition. Bunnings had already paused use as it migrated to a new system.
A leaked Woolworths employee training module slide claims that it is using "artificial intelligence and facial mapping" in its stores -- but the company denies it is using the technology. This is from a Woolies training module from 2020." At the bottom of the slide, a box titled "Did You Know?" boasts about the company's use of technology to catch offenders: "Our high standard CCTV is already resulting in offenders being arrested by police. We are using technology like artificial intelligence and facial mapping to identify offenders!" Woolworths confirmed that the slide was real, but denied it is using either artificial intelligence or facial recognition to prevent theft.
Australian conglomerate Wesfarmers Ltd, owner of the country's no. 1 hardware chain, reported annual profit fell and warned of "challenging" inflation, but said raw materials prices were down while demand was high for home improvement projects. The outlook issues on Friday shows a company transitioning from one extraordinary challenge to another: during COVID-19 lockdowns its products were in high demand but trading was disrupted, while it now faces soaring materials costs and consumer confidence dented by rising living cost pressures. Wesfarmers net profit for the year ended June fell 2.9% to A$2.35 billion ($1.64 billion), bettering analyst forecasts of about A$2.2 billion, due to pandemic store closures and restrictions in the first half. Its main earner, the Bunnings hardware chain, raised its profit contribution by 0.9%. But Australia ended lockdowns in late 2021 and overall profit in the January-to-June half leapt 13% as shoppers rushed back to the company's stores, which also include local versions for Kmart and Target outlets.
As guests arrive at eastern Australia's Warilla Hotel, a small camera equipped with facial recognition software scans their faces as part of a scheme to tackle problem gambling. The tech – which uses artificial intelligence (AI) to identify addicts who have asked to be barred from betting sites – is set to be rolled out across gambling venues in the state of New South Wales next year. Supporters say it will help curb problem gambling in a country where the addiction affects about 1 percent of the population and annual losses run to billions of dollars. But the technology is "invasive, dangerous and undermines our most basic and fundamental rights", said Samantha Floreani, programme lead at the non-profit group Digital Rights Watch. "We should be exceptionally wary of introducing it into more areas of our lives and it should not be seen as a simple quick-fix solution to complex social issues," she said.
Australian retail group Wesfarmers has seen results jump for the 2021 full year, reporting a 40% uplift in net profit after tax to AU$2.38 billion. Managing director Rob Scott reported the conglomerate -- which is made up of Bunnings, Officeworks, and Kmart Group -- delivered total revenue just short of AU$34 billion, a 10% uplift on last year, for the period ending 30 June 2021. "While COVID-19 had a significant impact on operations during the year, the group's businesses maintained their focus on building deeper customer relationships and trust," he said. "Bunnings, Kmart Group, and Officeworks delivered strong sales and earnings growth for the year. While customer demand remained resilient, sales growth in Bunnings, Officeworks, and Catch moderated from mid-March as the businesses began to cycle elevated demand following the onset of COVID-19 in the prior year. Pleasingly, sales growth from mid-March remained strong on a two-year basis across all of the group's retail businesses."