Which stores are scanning your face? no one knows.
In early February, I paid $171.59 to watch the Rangers play the Canucks at Madison Square Garden. I’m not going to watch hockey. I was just wondering if my guest, personal injury attorney Tia Garcia, would have access to the building.
We entered the security queue and went through metal detectors. Then, as Ms. Garcia turned to pick up her bag from the conveyor belt, a security guard pulled her over and showed her driver’s license. “Am I in trouble?” she asked.
The guard told her she needed to wait for management to come to her.
He didn’t explain why, but we already know it: Ms. Garcia is one of thousands of lawyers placed on the ban list because their law firm is embroiled in a lawsuit against Arena’s parent company. As we lined up, facial recognition technology identified her.
“Have you ever been here?” the guard asked. He expressed surprise when Ms. Garcia told him she watched the Cavaliers play the Knicks a few weeks ago. On that occasion, Ms. Garcia was wearing a medical mask, hat and glasses. This time, her face was clearly visible.
Five minutes later, the security manager arrived and formally kicked Ms. Garcia out. Although she had expected this to happen, Ms. Garcia found the deployment of facial recognition technology to punish corporate foes shocking. So do local lawmakers.city council Hearings Discussed last month how Madison Square Garden and other local businesses are using the technology.
There are many questions to ask: who is using it? Who are they trying to keep out of their business? What do they do when technology goes wrong and flags look alike?Mayor Eric Adams recently encouraged businesses to use facial recognition Combating shoplifting. Who answered his call? If you shoplift once, do you get banned for life?
But the council has a problem. Madison Square Garden did not send representatives as requested. (A Madison Square Garden spokeswoman said the group felt its views — that the technology provides a safe and secure environment — were represented by others there.)
No one at the hearing knew what other businesses were using the technology.
So I decided to find out. New York City has a wacky new law that makes it the only city in the country where commercial facial scans must post signs telling customers it’s doing it. After leaving the meeting, I started walking for miles looking for these signs. They are not where I expect them to be.
walk in privacy
I left the hearing in lower Manhattan and headed south, past clothing retailer Zara and a CVS. Neither”biometric information” disclosure, so presumably they weren’t using facial recognition technology.
“Biometrics? What’s that?” an employee at the CVS door asked when I told him the sign I was looking for. A “biometric identifier” is a fancy term used to describe a unique physical characteristic, such as a fingerprint, voiceprint or a scan of someone’s face.
Facial recognition software is typically trained on photos of millions of people until it learns what to look for in an image to match one face with another. It’s not perfect, but has become more accurate in recent years thanks to advances in artificial intelligence.
Typically, a store using facial recognition technology isn’t trying to identify every customer who walks through the door, but rather looking for faces that have been placed on a watch list, such as former shoplifters. Madison Square Garden said it created lawyer watch lists by collecting faces from banned corporate websites.
I walked a few more blocks south to what I thought would be such a sign: Amazon Go, a convenience store where customers can pay with their palm prints. Cameras, sensors and palm scanners are everywhere in the store, allowing shoppers to pick up an item and walk out without stopping at the checkout line. There’s a standout presentation on the “power of the palm” with instructions on how to link one’s handprint to an Amazon account.
But even this store doesn’t have what I’m looking for. Amazon said it does not use facial recognition technology and that it only collects biometric information from people who voluntarily provide their palms. I bought some regular sushi and some water, but used a code from my Amazon app because I wasn’t ready to give Jeff Bezos my handprint.
Only humans are used here
I head north to the New York Times building in midtown Manhattan, cross Canal Street, and walk along SoHo’s unique cobbled streets. I popped into a $790 blue cotton blazer from Ralph Lauren, a $550 Sunglass Hut and a $990 Louis Vuitton sleeveless top. None of them have biometrics, just a bunch of employees watching me closely.
At Coach, a greeter standing next to a high-end leather bag said the store doesn’t use facial recognition technology, but he and his colleagues know the average shoplifter who crowds the door when they try to get in.
“Try Sephora,” he suggests. I did, but there is no sign there. Nor are the nearby Apple, Target or Adidas stores.
this Pew Research Center Americans were recently surveyed about their views on facial recognition technology, but only slightly less than half of the police use it, calling it a good idea.The NYPD has been using the technology since 2011Little is known about its use by the private sector, aside from Madison Square Garden, which began using its system in 2018 to identify security threats.
I walked down Avenue of the Americas toward Chelsea, passing Old Navy, TJ Maxx, Marshalls, Trader Joe’s, and Best Buy. None of them have biometric disclosure flags.
this city law This requires the notification to have been in effect last year. The fine for failing to post the sign is $500, but the law also prohibits businesses from selling or sharing the biometric information they collect, with losses of up to $5,000 per violation. Individuals are responsible for enforcement; consumers need to figure out that unmarked businesses are secretly scanning their faces or sharing their facial fingerprints with others, and sue.
“We suspect that many businesses are still unaware of New York City’s biometrics law,” said Mark Francis, a partner at Holland & Knight, a law firm that focuses on data privacy.
“Stop Grocery Store Violence and Theft”
The pedometer on my iPhone hit nearly 14,000 steps as I crossed 25th Street, and I finally saw a sign for the gourmet grocery store Fairway Market. A thin sheet of white paper, titled “Biometric Disclosure,” was taped to a sliding glass door.
“If someone steals, they use it for security,” a Fairway employee told me. The store uses a vendor called FaceFirst; its website promises to “stop grocery store violence and theft,” he said. The employee, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to reporters, said a man was kicked out that morning for stealing coffee.
Retail theft has been on the rise since the pandemic began. Karen O’Shea, a spokeswoman for Wakefern, Fairway’s parent company, said the facial recognition system had been in use about a year ago.
“Repeat crime rates for retail theft and shoplifting are high and drive up grocery costs for all customers,” she said. “Only trained asset protection personnel are allowed to use the system, which helps us focus on repeat shoplifters.”
After leaving the fairway, I encountered more signs eight blocks away. When I walked into Macy’s on 34th Street, there were two gaudy white signs on the gray marble wall, one in English and one in Spanish, informing shoppers that their “biometric information” was for “asset protection purposes.” “And was collected.
A security guard said he didn’t know if facial recognition was being used there. “What sign? Where is it?” he said, looking around, seemingly confused.
Macy’s did not respond to a request for comment on the signs, but a spokesperson previously told insider The company has used facial recognition “in a small number of stores with high rates of organized retail theft and repeat offenders.”
Macy’s is only a block from Madison Square Garden, so I turned around to make sure its sign was still displayed on a post near the metal detector. The last six blocks of my trek passed Eighth Avenue’s restaurants and retailers with no obvious biometric signage.
The results of my four hour walk were confusing. I checked dozens of stores. SoHo’s high-end retailers apparently aren’t using cutting-edge technology to protect their expensive garments, but Fairway Market, which sells lemons for 99 cents, is. Either we’re in the early stages of deploying the technology, or it’s not proving to be as popular with retailers as expected.
My journey is a limited survey of a large city made up of many neighborhoods.Need to go the whole way about six years. So, dear reader, I ask for help. If you’re wandering the streets of NYC and spot a biometric disclosure sign, I invite you to take a photo, note your location and send it to me: firstname.lastname@example.org. My feet thank you.