Rite Aid, one of the largest pharmacy chains in the US, has been banned by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) from using facial recognition technology for surveillance purposes for the next five years. The FTC said that Rite Aid falsely accused hundreds of shoppers of theft using the flawed technology, which was deployed in hundreds of stores across the country, mostly in lower-income and non-white neighborhoods.
According to the FTC, Rite Aid violated the consumer privacy and civil rights of its customers by using facial recognition technology without their consent or knowledge. The technology, which was supplied by a company with links to China and its authoritarian government, was intended to deter theft and protect staff and customers from violence. However, the FTC found that the technology was inaccurate, biased, and unreliable, and often misidentified innocent shoppers as shoplifters.
The FTC said that Rite Aid’s facial recognition system scanned the faces of every person who entered a store and compared them to a list of individuals who had previously been caught or suspected of shoplifting at Rite Aid stores. If the system detected a match, it would alert store security personnel, who would then approach and interrogate the person. The FTC said that many of these matches were false or based on low-quality images, and that Rite Aid did not verify the identity of the person before accusing them of theft.
The FTC also said that Rite Aid’s facial recognition system disproportionately targeted people of color, who are more likely to be misidentified by the technology than white people. The FTC cited a study by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) that found that facial recognition algorithms can have error rates of up to 100 times higher for Asian and African American faces than for white faces. The FTC said that Rite Aid’s use of facial recognition technology in predominantly non-white and lower-income areas was discriminatory and harmful to the communities it served.
Rite Aid Agrees to Settle FTC Charges and Stop Using Facial Recognition Technology
The FTC announced that Rite Aid has agreed to settle the charges and stop using facial recognition technology for surveillance purposes for the next five years. The settlement also requires Rite Aid to delete all the facial images and data it collected from its customers, and to obtain their express consent before using any biometric technology in the future. The settlement also prohibits Rite Aid from making any false or misleading statements about the privacy, security, accuracy, or performance of any biometric technology it uses.
The FTC said that the settlement is part of its ongoing efforts to protect consumer privacy and civil rights in the face of emerging technologies. The FTC said that facial recognition technology can have significant benefits for consumers and businesses, but also poses serious risks of harm if used irresponsibly or unlawfully. The FTC said that it will continue to monitor the use of facial recognition technology by retailers and other entities, and take action against any violations of the law or the public interest.
The FTC also urged consumers to be aware of the potential use of facial recognition technology by businesses and other organizations, and to exercise their rights to control their personal information. The FTC said that consumers can ask questions, request information, opt out, or file a complaint if they suspect that their facial images or data are being collected or used without their consent or knowledge.
Rite Aid Says It Has Ended Its Facial Recognition Program
Rite Aid said that it has ended its facial recognition program and turned off all the cameras that were used for that purpose. The company said that it made the decision based on a larger industry conversation, and that other large technology companies seem to be scaling back or rethinking their efforts around facial recognition given increasing uncertainty around the technology’s utility.
Rite Aid said that it regrets any inconvenience or misunderstanding that its facial recognition program may have caused to its customers or the communities it serves. The company said that it respects the privacy and civil rights of its customers, and that it is committed to providing a safe and welcoming shopping experience for everyone.
Rite Aid said that it will cooperate with the FTC and comply with the terms of the settlement. The company said that it will also review its policies and practices to ensure that they are consistent with its values and the expectations of its customers.