Cadillac Fairview suspends use of facial recognition cameras at Calgary malls

Directories in Chinook Centre are suspending use of facial recognition software. Blake Lough / Global News

Cadillac Fairview is suspending its use of facial recognition technology at the Chinook Centre and Market Mall shopping centres in Calgary.

Facial recognition software was discovered being used in a Calgary mall last month and investigations are now underway.

In an emailed statement sent to Global News on Sunday, Cadillac Fairview Corporation’s director of media relations confirmed that the Federal Privacy Commissioner and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta are investigating after media coverage of cameras in their shopping centre directories.

“Of course, we will co-operate fully with the investigations throughout the process,” Janine Ramparas wrote. “We have suspended use of the cameras pending resolution of this matter.”

The Privacy and Access Council of Canada (PACC) is “pleasantly surprised” by Cadillac Fairview’s decision to suspend the practice.

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PACC President Sharon Polsky said people have to understand the technology and what its use entails. The software was collecting records without consent.

“To get to the point that the facial recognition technology can create the numerical representation of a face, they’ve got to look at the face and gather the data points of that unique face,” she said. “They are collecting the information, even if it’s only for a moment.”

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It’s something that fractures consumer trust, Polsky said, especially in an age of heightened privacy concern. She added that the swift reaction to facial recognition technology being used without the public’s knowledge demonstrates that people really do care about their privacy.

“They do want to know who is collecting [their information], what are they doing with it and why — which is what the law requires,” Polsky said.

The law doesn’t allow exemptions for pilot projects, she added.

Facial-recognition software is seen on a digital directory at the Chinook shopping centre in Calgary. Reddit

Interpreting last-century laws

It doesn’t help that privacy laws were written last century, which can allow for interpretation, Polsky said.

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“The technology has outpaced the legislation,” she said.

“If you look at any privacy policy, they talk about you consenting to the collection of personal information, and then the language is so broad and vague, it really doesn’t exclude much,” she added.

“‘We will collect personal information to improve your viewing experience, your shopping experience, your driving experience, whatever.’ Well, that doesn’t tell me much.”

Especially about how the company will use the consumer’s information.

“When you agree to that sort of broad term with several organizations — as we all have had to do — they all have the liberty of trading your information away, selling it,” Polsky said.

Companies like Cadillac Fairview do themselves a disservice when they’re not transparent, she said, , adding they could have asked people directly if they wanted to participate in the pilot project — like having a touchscreen element for people to choose to identify themselves in a demographic survey.

“Then it’s completely the consumer’s choice if they choose to opt in,” Polsky said. “That would garner much more trust from the public.”

It’s concerning to her that this technology is in place in different locations and could pop up elsewhere.

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“Does it mean everyone wants to be secretive? Absolutely not. That’s not what privacy is. Privacy is about individuals having choice and control over their own information.”

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