National | Facial Recognition

‘Māori women and women of colour will be targeted’ in Foodstuffs’ facial recognition trial - Māori tech expert

Foodstuffs’ attempt to keep staff and customers safe comes with challenges as some worry about the effectiveness of the technology.

Dr Karaitiana Taiuru, a Māori AI specialist and tech ethicist is warning that Thursday’s launch of Foodstuffs North Island’s facial recognition technology (FRT) trial is “100 percent a corporate invasion of our personal lives.”.

“Māori women are going to be more targeted both in risks to bias and risk to misidentification and also their personal data,” Taiuru.says

“Primarily the biggest harm will be to any indigenous people and people of colour simply because the system is not designed or trained on their faces,” he says.

“It’s likely to misinterpret or misidentify an individual. That will in turn lead to people who are innocent being accused of being a shoplifter or being accused of being someone else.”

Privacy Commissioner Michael Webster will be closely monitoring the Foodstuffs trial, which is anticipated to run no more than six months.

“New Zealanders deserve to shop for their milk and bread without having their faces scanned unless it’s really justified,” Webster says.

“We wouldn’t accept being fingerprinted and checked at the door before shopping for groceries - that sounds ludicrous - but FRT is a similar biometric process that is faster, machine-run, happens in a nanosecond, and creates a template to compare your face to, now and in the future,” he says.

“We want people to be safe as they shop and work. But I have real questions about whether the technology will be effective in stopping violent behaviour or preventing harm.”

Foodstuffs North Island will be able to de cide whether FRT is embraced more broadly by the co-op with the aid of this trial, which is now being conducted in up to 25 North Island stores. The trial’s present goal is to eliminate harmful behaviour in-store by improving the identification of repeat offenders.

Foodstuffs North Island chief executive Chris Quin says everyone has the right to a safe working environment and a safe place to buy their groceries. “This trial of FR in our stores is part of our commitment to keeping our teams and customers safe.”

“Our North Island stores recorded 4,719 incidents in the October-December quarter of 2023 alone. That’s 34% more than the 3,510 recorded in the previous ,quarter” Quin says. “Shockingly, one of our security team was stabbed recently and our people are being punched, kicked, bitten and spat at. We’re seeing over 14 serious incidents a week, including an average of two assaults.”

“All too often it’s the same people, coming back to our stores despite having already been trespassed, committing more crime, and often putting our team members and customers at risk of abuse and violence,” he says.