Calgary malls caught secretly using facial recognition to characterise shoppers' age and gender

Calgary's Chinook Centre and Market Mall — operated by Cadillac Fairview — have been caught running background software that analysed the footage from the CCTVs in the malls' electronic directories to guess at the age and gender of visitors, without consent or notification.

The discovery was made when a visitor to Chinook Centre spotted a glitched-out electronic mall directory that was displaying a window with the output from the facial recognition software.

Sharon Polsky with the Privacy and Access Council of Canada said the general public would likely be shocked if they realized they were being surveilled with facial recognition technology.

"The people are not notified. They're not given an opportunity to opt in, much less opt out," Polsky said.

She said the most businesses usually do is post a sign saying a facility is under CCTV surveillance, but few go as far as spelling out to consumers what surveillance actually is taking place or undertake privacy impact assessments.

"There's no way to verify the alleged purpose, and they [could] start using it for other purposes. From a civil liberties perspective, from a privacy perspective, from the perspective of being able to exercise our rights, it's a huge concern," Polsky said.

At least two malls are using facial recognition technology to track shoppers' ages and genders without telling [Sarah Rieger/CBC]

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