Facial recognition tech: Could it be used to track your habits in stores?

Facial recognition tech: Could it be used to track your habits in stores? (ABC7)

Americans love to shop and everyday, millions of us go out and do just that. But did you know that as we enter stores, to buy clothes or food or appliances, we're being watched?

“Stores have been collecting individualized data on their customers for a really long time," says Ed Barthlome, executive director of Call For Action. "Facial recognition allows them to take that to a higher level.”

How? By grabbing an image of your face.

Daon, Inc., based in Reston, is one of the leaders of biometric technology -- the analysis of the physical features that are uniquely you, like fingerprints and faces.

If retailer x has an image of your face it can map it and save it in a database.

“We're not matching the image of your face," a Daon representative told 7 On Your Side. "We are matching this mathematical representation of your face."

The technology is fascinating and foolproof. Once captured, every time a camera sees your face, the image can be matched with this mathematical map on file and prove conclusively who you are. Then your data can be collected on your shopping habits.

Cameras are in place now almost everywhere. In public places, on streets, in malls, and in stores.

"They are trying to figure out if people are interested in aisle a or aisle b," privacy advocate Joe Jerome explains.

Right now, retailers are tracking general information like the gender, race or age of shoppers as they visit stores.

"We would be a big believer, and all of our customers would, only use biometrics with the consent of the customers," Daon CEO Tom Grissen says. The technology is in place, he says, for retailers to use it for loyalty customers who voluntarily opt-in.

“They want to provide the opportunity to recognize that a loyal customer is coming into the store," Grissen adds. "They can alert a salesperson and make sure they provide the finest service they can."

But so much of our information in someone else's hands raises red flags among privacy rights lawyers.

“The question is who collected and for what purposes and are you aware .... have you consented to that,” privacy lawyer Brenda Leong says.

“There are lots of players out there with different parts of your information,” says Jerome. "And they try to sort of mix and match it together to get a larger profile of you.”

Once that profile puzzle of you is complete, there are no assurances where that information could end up. And, what if you don't want to give consent?

"The way privacy works in the United States, is that it's under what's called a notice and choice model," according to Jerome. "With facial recognition, that notice is frequently when you walk into a mall and there's a sign and that's your notice. And your choice is not to go to the mall.”

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