• Thu. Mar 30th, 2023

NYC’s Fairway store using facial recognition to bust thieves


Mar 16, 2023


An Upper West Side supermarket is using facial recognition technology to bust thieves as a wave of shoplifting slams the city — but some customers say it’s an invasion of privacy akin to “Big Brother.”

Fairway on Broadway and West 74th Street is collecting customers’ personal information — such as eye scans and voice prints — in an effort to stop the scourge of shoplifters wreaking havoc on the market, according to the firm.

“This technology is helping our stores reduce retail crime, an industry-wide challenge that has increased dramatically over the last few years,” the firm said in a statement.

“We have found that this technology — used thoughtfully and in combination with other measures we take to reduce theft — is helping prevent more crime in store.”

The store hung a small sign on its front entrance alerting customers that it “collects, retains, converts, stores or shares” customers’ “biometric information” in an effort to stop repeat crooks.

Fairway on the Upper West Side is using facial recognition tech to bust shoplifters.Sipa USA via AP

But some shoppers called the controversial technology unsettling.

“It’s a little creepy,” said Shawn Adams, a 37-year-old who was shopping at the store on Thursday. “It’s an invasion of privacy.”

Claudia, a retired teacher from the Upper West Side, worried what would happen to her personal data once it was collected.

“I don’t like it. I just don’t like Big Brother watching what I’m doing,” she said. “I don’t like people to take my information.”

Andrea S., a 74-year-old psychotherapist, added, “I think it’s horrible. I don’t want anyone to use my face.”

Some shoppers are concerned by the grocery chain’s actions.Sipa USA via AP

Retail thefts in the Big Apple hit a record high last year with complaints soaring to more than 63,000 — a 45% jump from 2021. Many of the crooks were repeat offenders, with 327 suspected thieves making up 30% of the city’s total shoplifters.

Crooks have gotten so brazen, Mayor Eric Adams implored shoppers earlier this month to remove their face masks when entering stores in a bid to curb the shoplifting epidemic.

Other stores and drug chains have increasingly begun using facial-recognition software, artificial intelligence and even aisle-roving robots to curb theft thieves in New York.

On Thursday, some Fairway shoppers said the high-tech tool didn’t bother them if it helped reduce retail theft in the city.

“My initial reaction was against it, but thinking it through, I’m not anti,” said Anette Ronner, a 77, retired fashion industry worker from Upper West Side.

A sign at the store warns customers that their “biometric” data may be collected.Sipa USA via AP

“I’m leaning towards acceptance. I think it will deter some shoplifting, which we all end up paying for eventually with higher and higher prices.”

Fairway insisted that it’s following all laws associated with the technology.

“Only trained asset protection associates use the system, which helps us focus attention on repeat shoplifters,” its statement said.

“Retail theft and shoplifting has a high rate of repeat offense and drives up grocery costs for all customers.”

A Fairway spokesperson didn’t immediately comment when asked for crime prevention data it may have already collected.

In recent months, Madison Square Garden CEO James Dolan has come under fire for his use of facial recognition technology to ban lawyers involved in suing his firm from entering the world-famous arena.

Lawyers in some of those cases have also called use of their likenesses a privacy invasion.

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