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Guarding Customer Identity: The Importance of Biometric Data Privacy in Autonomous Stores

Customer shopping at a c-store

79% of Americans are concerned about how companies use their data.

Autonomous stores offer customers a seamless shopping experience without the need for human interaction. In recent years, these cashierless stores have become increasingly popular. Simultaneously, there is an increase in concerns over data privacy in store and on the internet. 79% of Americans are concerned about how companies use their data. The truth is today’s consumers, whether shopping via e-commerce or in a physical store, are worried about how their data is being collected and used by a company. And this concern includes biometric data in autonomous stores.

Biometrics are defined by Bloomberg Law as “measurements related to a person’s unique physical characteristics, including but not limited to fingerprints, palm prints, voiceprints, facial, retinal, or iris measurements, and more.” All of the above are classified as unique identifiers. But why would biometric data be necessary in an autonomous store? To cut to the chase, it’s not. And actually, it can be extremely harmful to the customer experience and business overall. 

In this blog, we explore the importance of biometric data privacy in autonomous stores and why it’s crucial to safeguard customer identity.

THE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE & BIOMETRIC DATA

Some cashierless stores use biometric data to identify and authenticate customers, claiming this will help boost store security. However, using biometric data in autonomous stores may lead to a poor customer experience. And let’s be honest, the customer experience today relies on data privacy and trust. 

If consumers don’t trust a brand, the probability of them giving up on doing business with said brand is high. According to the Global Consumer State of Mind Report 2021, 60% of consumers would spend more with a company they trust and believe handles their personal data responsibly. And the same goes for biometric data collection. 

Today’s consumers fear autonomous store technology will surveil people unknowingly or against their will. This can be a deterrent to consumers, causing them to avoid shopping at an autonomous store. To combat this fear, autonomous shops need to leverage computer vision technology. (More on that later.) 

Additionally, autonomous stores that use facial recognition systems face demographic biases. For example, a 2018 MIT study found that the false match rate for people with a lighter skin tone is 0.8%. Meanwhile, the false match rate for people with a darker skin tone is 34.7%. 

These biases can potentially lead to a poor customer experience for various individuals. If an autonomous store leverages biometric technology, a shopper might not get charged appropriately for their purchase based on inaccurate facial recognition. As a result, shoppers can be over or undercharged for their purchase, leading to a sub-par customer experience and a revenue issue for the business.

AUTONOMOUS STORES AND BIOMETRIC DATA: THE LEGAL IMPLICATIONS

Did you know collecting biometric data can also have legal and ethical consequences as well? A recent Amazon Go lawsuit proves this to be the case.

An Amazon Go store in New York City is under legal fire for violating NYC’s Biometric Surveillance Law. The lawsuit was brought forth by a patron claiming the store failed to inform customers that it obtains their biometric data by tracking people throughout the store. NYC’s Biometric Surveillance Law, put into effect in 2021, requires “businesses to notify customers of the use of biometric identifier technology” and prohibits “the sale of biometric identifier information.” 

According to Gizmodo, if Amazon Go proves to be in violation of the law, the company could “face upwards of $500 for each violation, up to $500 for each negligent sale violation, and up to $5,000 for each intentional or reckless sale violation.”

In recent years, various states have enacted their own laws to protect customers’ data and privacy. States such as Texas, Washington, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Utah, and Virginia have statewide biometric data privacy laws and regulations with varying stipulations. Some municipalities, including New York City and Portland, Oregon, have their own set of tailored biometric privacy measures. 

As more states and governments recognize the importance of protecting consumers’ biometrics (GDPR, CCPA), especially in autonomous stores, it will become imperative to forgo the collection of biometric identifiers to avoid legal liability and litigation. 

AiFi’s COMPUTER VISION TECHNOLOGY

65% of retail customers prefer autonomous shopping experiences that are anonymous and private. We totally get it. That’s why we created AiFi with anonymity in mind.

AiFi’s computer vision enables autonomous stores to track items, people, and purchases, without biometric identifiers. Our camera-only AI platform begins tracking shoppers as they enter the store using keypoint tracking technology that creates a unique individual. Keep in mind, AiFi’s platform is open and we can work with partners to help customers integrate biometrics when desired.

Here’s a visualization to help you grasp how AiFi’s computer vision works in real-time:

AiFi doesn’t use facial recognition or biometric data to identify shoppers, as keypoint tracking technology is used to turn each shopper into a unique avatar. Below is a brief video illustrating how keypoint tracking technology works:

 

 

 

 

 

Our approach combines computer vision and machine learning to infer over 8 joints (or keypoints) on a body, making our solution suited for accurate tracking within stores. Since we do not store any biometric data, our solutions are GDPR and CCPA compliant. Businesses can process all data securely inside their store while learning more about customer behavior and shopping patterns.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Autonomous stores bring convenience and efficiency to shopping experiences. But when executed poorly and without the right technology, these stores raise concerns about data privacy, particularly when it comes to biometric data. 

In the era of autonomous stores, biometric data privacy matters. From the customer experience to legal liabilities and forthcoming state legislations regarding biometric data privacy, successful autonomous stores require advanced tracking solutions like AiFi.

AiFi is the largest AI platform with 100% computer vision protecting the privacy of each customer. Request a demo to gain a firsthand look at how AiFi works.