Australia's second-biggest appliances chain says it is pausing a trial of facial recognition technology in stores after a consumer group referred it to the privacy regulator for possible enforcement action. In an email on Tuesday, a spokesperson for JB Hi-Fi Ltd said The Good Guys, which JB Hi-Fi owns, would stop trialling a security system with optional facial recognition in two Melbourne outlets. Use of the technology by The Good Guys, owned by JB Hi-Fi Ltd, was "unreasonably intrusive" and potentially in breach of privacy laws, the group, CHOICE, told the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC). While the company took confidentiality of personal information seriously and is confident it complied with relevant laws, it decided "to pause the trial … pending any clarification from the OAIC regarding the use of this technology", JB Hi-Fi's spokesperson added. The Good Guys was named in a complaint alongside Bunnings, Australia's biggest home improvement chain, and big box retailer Kmart, both owned by Wesfarmers Ltd, with total annual sales of about 25 billion Australian dollars ($19.47m) across 800 stores.
After Canada, now Australia has found that controversial facial recognition company, Clearview AI, broke national privacy laws when it covertly collected citizens' facial biometrics and incorporated them into its AI-powered identity matching service -- which it sells to law enforcement agencies and others. In a statement today, Australia's information commissioner and privacy commissioner, Angelene Falk, said Clearview AI's facial recognition tool breached the country's Privacy Act 1988 by: In what looks like a major win for privacy down under, the regulator has ordered Clearview to stop collecting facial biometrics and biometric templates from Australians; and to destroy all existing images and templates that it holds. The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) undertook a joint investigation into Clearview with the UK data protection agency, the Information Commission's Office (IOC). However the UK regulator has yet to announce any conclusions. In a separate statement today -- which possibly reads slightly flustered -- the ICO said it is "considering its next steps and any formal regulatory action that may be appropriate under the UK data protection laws".
Australia's Information Commissioner has found that Clearview AI breached Australia's privacy laws on numerous fronts, after a bilateral investigation uncovered that the company's facial recognition tool collected Australians' sensitive information without consent and by unfair means. The investigation, conducted by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) and the UK Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), found that Clearview AI's facial recognition tool scraped biometric information from the web indiscriminately and has collected data on at least 3 billion people. The OAIC also found that some Australian police agency users, who were Australian residents and trialled the tool, searched for and identified images of themselves as well as images of unknown Australian persons of interest in Clearview AI's database. By considering these factors together, Australia's Information Commissioner Angelene Falk concluded that Clearview AI breached Australia's privacy laws by collecting Australians' sensitive information without consent and by unfair means. In her determination [PDF], Falk explained that consent was not provided, even though facial images of affected Australians are already available online, as Clearview AI's intent in collecting this biometric data was ambiguous.
In Australia, the country's information commissioner has found that 7-Eleven breached customers' privacy by collecting their sensitive biometric information without adequate notice or consent. From June 2020 to August 2021, 7-Eleven conducted surveys that required customers to fill out information on tablets with built-in cameras. These tablets, which were installed in 700 stores, captured customers' facial images at two points during the survey-taking process -- when the individual first engaged with the tablet, and after they completed the survey. During the investigation [PDF], the OAIC found 7-Eleven stored the facial images on tablets for around 20 seconds before uploading them to a secure server hosted in Australia within the Microsoft Azure infrastructure. The facial images were then retained on the server, as an algorithmic representation, for seven days to allow 7-Eleven to identify and correct any issues, and reprocess survey responses, the convenience store giant claimed.
If you've had a driver's licence photo or passport photo taken in Australia in the past few years, it's likely your face will end up in a massive new national network the federal government is trying to create. Victoria and Tasmania have already begun to upload driver's licence details to state databases that will eventually be linked to a future national one. Legislation before federal parliament will allow government agencies and private businesses to access facial IDs held by state and territory traffic authorities, and passport photos held by the foreign affairs department. The justification for what would be the most significant compulsory collection of personal data since My Health Record is cracking down on identity fraud. The home affairs department estimates that the annual cost of ID fraud is $2.2bn, and says introducing a facial component to the government's document verification service would help prevent it.
Facial recognition could be used to replace swipe cards on public transport, the New South Wales government has suggested, but the opposition and digital rights groups say it would pose a risk to privacy. The transport minister, Andrew Constance, said on Tuesday he wanted commuters "in the not too distant future" to be able to board trains using only their faces, with no need for Opal cards, barriers or turnstiles. "I'm about to outline some concepts which may seem pretty crazy and far-fetched," he told the Sydney Institute on Tuesday. "But look at it this way – who would have thought in 1970 that you'd be able to use a handheld device to have a video conversation with someone on the other side of the world? "I want people to not think about their travel.
If you shop at Westfield, you've probably been scanned and recorded by dozens of hidden cameras built into the centres' digital advertising billboards. The semi-camouflaged cameras can determine not only your age and gender but your mood, cueing up tailored advertisements within seconds, thanks to facial detection technology. Westfield's Smartscreen network was developed by the French software firm Quividi back in 2015. Their discreet cameras capture blurry images of shoppers and apply statistical analysis to identify audience demographics. And once the billboards have your attention they hit record, sharing your reaction with advertisers.
The concerns over government facial recognition systems don't just revolve around the possibility of Orwellian control -- it's that they may share that data with others you don't completely trust. Australia is learning this first-hand. The Guardian has obtained documents showing that the country's Attorney General office is talking to telecoms and banks about testing private use of the Facial Verification Service in 2018. Companies would need to get your permission and would have to show that they're honoring Australia's Privacy Act, but they could otherwise use it to fight fraud or otherwise verify the identities of their customers.