"Rite Aid's reckless use of facial surveillance systems left its customers facing humiliation..."

Face Off

When companies and organizations use facial recognition technology for surveillance or security, the results are inaccurate enough that they often lead to disastrous outcomes.

The latest case in point is the drug chain Rite Aid, which used faulty facial recognition tech in its stores to combat shoplifting — but instead ended up accusing innocent shoppers of theft, often in a racially discriminatory way, according to The Washington Post.

This week, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reprimanded Rite Aid for its use of the technology and banned the retailer from using it for five years, in addition to other penalties.

"Rite Aid's reckless use of facial surveillance systems left its customers facing humiliation and other harms, and its order violations put consumers’ sensitive information at risk," said FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection director Samuel Levine in a statement. "Today’s groundbreaking order makes clear that the Commission will be vigilant in protecting the public from unfair biometric surveillance and unfair data security practices."

False Positives

Rite Aid used the technology between 2012 to 2020 in an attempt to nab shoplifters and other customers displaying "problematic behavior," says the FTC. But the tech led to thousands of false positives, according to the FTC legal complaint.

The tech unfairly targeted Black, Hispanic and female customers, and was mostly deployed in neighborhoods that were located in "plurality non-White areas."

FTC also said innocent children were flagged, such as the case of an 11-year-old girl.

"The girl’s mother told Rite Aid that she had missed work because her daughter was so distraught by the incident," reads the FTC complaint.

Rite Aid issued a statement that said the company will comply with the FTC ruling, while adding the tech was part of a pilot program deployed "in a limited number of stores."

No matter the company's excuses, the FTC ruling is a breath of fresh air governing the use of facial recognition technology, which seems to be accelerating our descent into a Black Mirror-esque hellscape.

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