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.
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Since the lockdown, Co-op UK has seen a surge in demand for its robot delivery service, with average transaction values quadrupling. This has prompted the retailer to expand the system to six new locations, taking the total to eight, and will now offer a range of over 1,000 items for same-day delivery. The retailer partnered with Starship Technologies to offer same-day delivery via its autonomous robots in Milton Keynes since 2018,
NHS workers using the service will also not be charged for delivery, and the robots were programmed to stop at 8pm every Thursday as the nation applauded the health service.
Co-op’s head of online development, Jason Perry, said, “Quality, ease and convenience is at the core of our approach and we continue to innovate and expand access to our products online in order to offer greater flexibility and choice to meet consumer needs in our communities.”
In March Starship Technologies, which also delivers for Tesco, announced it was expanding deliveries in its hometown of Milton Keynes to Monkston, Emerson Valley and Bletchley marking the first time deliveries are being made available in the centre of a UK town.These robots have now been expanded to over 100 cities across the globe and have carried out over 100,000 deliveries in the UK since 2018.
It also forms part of Co-op’s ambition to offer same-day delivery from 650 of its stores by the end of the year via partnerships with Starship Technologies, Deliveroo and Buymie, alongside its own delivery service.