UK retailer Co-op has begun implementing facial recognition technology at 18 of its stores in a bid to reduce crime and abuse against staff. Southern Co-op was the first to trial the controversial technology, with other regional Co-op franchises now believed to be using it too. According to Wire, the retailer, which experienced a sharp rise in crime levels during the pandemic, began using the technology 18 months ago.
Co-op is reportedly implementing a facial recognition system from Facewatch, which scans the faces of shoppers when they enter the store to check them against a watch list of known suspects. The system alerts store staff via their smartphones if someone who has a past record of theft or antisocial behaviour enters the store.
The Court of Appeal has previously criticised the lack of transparency around the creation of such watch lists, which are understood to be compiled based on decisions of Co-op staff. In July, Co-op announced it was issuing body cameras to staff in response to an “unprecedented crime wave”, which it says was largely carried out by repeat offenders when they are confronted by staff.
Despite the apparent reduction in crime, the use of facial recognition technology remains a controversial topic, and its largely silent adoption across the private sector has drawn major criticism from privacy advocate groups.