Shoppers Using Mall Kiosks Unknowingly Photographed

Watchdogs say Cadillac Fairview broke Canadian privacy laws
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 30, 2020 9:21 AM CDT
Facial Recognition Used on Unsuspecting Mall Shoppers
Shoppers crowd the Toronto Eaton Centre on Boxing Day 2007.   (Wikimedia/??)

A commercial real estate company behind major shopping malls in Canada broke privacy laws in taking 5 million photos of shoppers and using facial recognition technology without their knowledge, according to federal and provincial privacy commissioners. Cadillac Fairview embedded inconspicuous cameras at digital information kiosks at 12 shopping malls—two in Alberta, two in British Columbia, one in Manitoba, five in Ontario, and two in Quebec, per Global News. Those cameras took digital images of individuals' faces, which were converted into biometric numerical representations that could be used to identify people, according to a Wednesday report. The images taken at properties including the Toronto Eaten Centre were deleted, per the CBC. But the biometric information was stored in a third party-controlled database, which Cadillac Fairview said it didn't know existed.

This "compounded the risk of potential use by unauthorized parties or, in the case of a data breach, by malicious actors," per a release. Federal Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien says "the lack of meaningful consent was particularly concerning given the sensitivity of biometric data." The company claims it was only tracking foot traffic and shoppers' ages and genders. It also notes stickers on mall doors warned that cameras were in use and included a link to a privacy policy. But commissioners found that was insufficient. The company has turned off cameras and deleted all data, though it refused to commit to seeking express consent from shoppers if it employed the technology in the future, per the CBC. The outlet notes Canadian privacy regulators can't levy fines, though such a case would likely result in millions of dollars in fines in the US. (More privacy stories.)

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