Cadillac Fairview broke privacy laws by using facial recognition technology at malls, investigators conclude

The Star | Kate Allen | Oct 29, 2020

cad - Cadillac Fairview broke privacy laws by using facial recognition technology at malls, investigators conclude Cadillac Fairview broke Canadian privacy laws after the company installed facial recognition technology inside a dozen malls and analyzed visitors’ images without obtaining proper consent, federal and provincial privacy commissioners announced Thursday.

Toronto’s Eaton Centre, Sherway Gardens and Fairview Mall all used the software. Markville Mall in Markham, Lime Ridge in Hamilton, and seven others in four other provinces did as well.

See: Biometric payment, access and ID cards launching around the world

Cameras embedded in wayfinding directories — the digital touch-screen maps that help visitors navigate malls — captured images of faces within the camera’s field of view, and converted them into a “biometric numerical representation” of each individual. That information was used to assess individuals’ ages and genders, and to monitor foot traffic.

“I’m really hoping that parliament will get serious about the threat posed by facial recognition technology and lay down some rules before it is too late and the abuse of this technology becomes ubiquitous.” said New Democrat MP Charlie Angus, a member of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics.

While Cadillac Fairview maintained that these “numerical representations” were not stored after use, the privacy investigators found that Anonymous Video Analytics kept 5 million of these facial representations on a decommissioned server on the company’s behalf, “for no apparent purpose and with no justification.”

See:[Brookings Institution Event Dec 5]: How to build guardrails for facial recognition technology

In a statement, Cadillac Fairview described the technology as a “beta test” that was “briefly conducted” at some locations, and noted the report “found no evidence that the company was using the technology for the purposes of identifying individuals.”

“This case also raises a big red flag regarding the need for stronger privacy laws with some teeth,” said Brenda McPhail, director of the Privacy, Technology & Surveillance Project at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA).

Questions about the use of facial recognition technology in Cadillac Fairview’s malls first surfaced in 2018 after a user on Reddit, a popular online forum, posted a picture of a malfunctioning wayfinding screen at Calgary’s Chinook Centre. The screen displayed lines of code that appeared to reference facial recognition programs.

 

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