5 million Canadian shoppers’ images collected at mall kiosks: privacy commissioner

OTTAWA — Five million images of Canadian shoppers were collected without customers’ knowledge through facial recognition software used by Cadillac Fairview, a parent company of malls across the country, according to an investigation by privacy officials.

The federal privacy commissioner reported Thursday that Cadillac Fairview embedded cameras inside digital information kiosks at 12 shopping malls across Canada, and captured users’ images without their consent.

The investigation was launched in 2018, following several media reports about information kiosks in malls being equipped with unmarked cameras to monitor visitor demographics.

According to a statement from Privacy Commissioner of Canada Daniel Therrien, the company said the goal of their cameras was to “analyze the age and gender of shoppers and not to identify individuals.”

The corporation said that they did not collect personal information because the images were briefly looked at and then deleted, however the information generated from the images was being stored by a third party, which Cadillac Fairview said it was unaware of. Therrien notes in his report that this “compounded the risk of potential use by unauthorized parties or, in the case of a data breach, by malicious actors.”

According to the report, the technology was used in directories at the following locations:

  • CF Market Mall in Alberta
  • CF Chinook Centre in Alberta
  • CF Richmond Centre in British Columbia
  • CF Pacific Centre in British Columbia
  • CF Polo Park in Manitoba
  • CF Toronto Eaton Centre in Ontario
  • CF Sherway Gardens in Ontario
  • CF Lime Ridge in Ontario
  • CF Fairview Mall in Ontario
  • CF Markville Mall in Ontario
  • CF Galeries d’Anjou in Quebec
  • CF Carrefour Laval in Quebec

Cadillac Fairview told the investigators that there were decals placed on shopping mall entry doors noting their privacy policy, but that was found to be an “insufficient” measure.

“Shoppers had no reason to expect their image was being collected by an inconspicuous camera, or that it would be used, with facial recognition technology, for analysis,” said Therrien in a statement. “The lack of meaningful consent was particularly concerning given the sensitivity of biometric data, which is a unique and permanent characteristic of our body and a key to our identity.”

Commissioner Therrien’s s office worked with the Alberta Information and Privacy Commissioner as well as the Information and Privacy Commissioner of British Columbia on the investigation.

More to come…

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