Alberta’s Information and Privacy Commissioner is looking into the use of facial recognition software at a pair of Calgary malls after a shopper identified facial recognition data tags like “gender/inception” and “age/inception” in a directory terminal.
Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) spokesperson Scott Sibbald said the office will investigate whether mall owner Cadillac Fairview is breaking Alberta’s Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA).
“What our investigations look at includes, but is not limited to, determining what types of personal information are being collected, whether personal information is indeed being collected, and whether consent for collection or notice of collection is required or would be recommended.”
The OIPC will also verify Cadillac Fairview’s claim that no photos or video are recorded, stored or shared.
Cadillac Fairview previously said in a statement that the digital directories are meant to “provide traffic analysis to help us understand usage patterns” and improve customer experience.
Cadillac Fairview spokesperson Janine Ramparas also said that, in June, it began testing software that “tries to predict approximate age and gender” of the directory user.
Sibbald said the OIPC’s investigation is to make sure the facial recognition software is not contravening privacy rights.
“Oftentimes, when it comes to new technologies of all kinds, what we want to ensure is that people are informed that certain technologies are being used, that when their personal information is being collected, that they’re told that it is being collected, and then what is happening to it afterwards.
“We’re not in a position to say, ‘No, you cannot use “x” technology’ in a variety of instances, but we need to ensure that they are in compliance with privacy laws.
“Because what privacy laws and privacy rights come down to is that individuals have control over their own information.”
Sibbald said that Alberta’s OIPC has already been in contact with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada about this investigation and there is the potential for the two offices to collaborate as the investigation continues.
The federal office has said that it is “following up” with Cadillac Fairview on its use of the facial recognition software.
Sibbald emphasized that Albertans can contact the OIPC with any privacy concerns in “a constantly shifting world with new technologies.”
“As it unravels, even though the investigation is still open, if there are people who are concerned, we are still able to take complaints.
“Privacy complaints really help us better understand what the public’s concerns are within an organization’s programs or practices.”
Sibbald said investigations of this nature usually take around nine months to complete.