7-Eleven was found to have been collecting customer facial imagery without obtaining prior consent from them, and hence, effectively breaching customer privacy. The breach was first noticed by Australia’s information commissioner, who said that the company neither provided any adequate notice nor sought any consent, while collecting sensitive biometric data.
Obtaining User Biometrics Through Cameras
The report came to light through ZDNet, which says that between June 2020 and August 2021, 7-Eleven took to conducting surveys requiring customers to manually fill out their data onto tablets with built-in cameras. These tables were installed in as many as 700 stores, and were used to capture facial images of customers at two different points during the survey-taking process.
Images were apparently captured when individuals first came in contact with the tablet, or after they had completed the survey. The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) came to know about the activity in July last year, and conducted an investigation into the matter.
The probe revealed that 7-Eleven was actually storing facial images on tablets for some 20 seconds before uploading them to a secure server within the Microsoft Azure infrastructure, that is hosted in Australia. Following the same, the images were retained on the server as algorithmic representation for seven days, so that 7-Eleven could identify and rectify any issues and re-process survey responses.
Comparing Faceprints to Detect Genuine Responses
It was also found that the images that were uploaded to the server as algorithmic representations (“faceprints”) were compared with some other responses so that the firm could exclude responses it believed to be genuine. Additionally, the personal information fed by customers was used to understand their demographic profiles.
Commenting on these allegations, 7-Eleven has said that it did receive consent from customers who were willing to participate in the survey, by providing a notice regarding the same on its website. According to the notice, the company could ask to collect biometric or photographic information from some users. Till March 2021, it is said to have collected as many as 1.6 million responses.
Growing Concerns Surrounding AI
This comes even as the US White House is contemplating over a new AI (artificial intelligence) “Bill of Rights” so as to protect citizens from the dangers posed by AI tech. The proposal came from the White House’s Science Advisors, and as of now, opinions and public comments from experts, AI developers, and even people who have been affected in some way by the technology, are being invited to help assist in the decision.