South Sound News

‘Look at camera for entry': Tacoma convenience store using facial recognition technology

KIRO 7 has learned the Jacksons Food Stores location at South 38th Street and Pacific Avenue in Tacoma is using facial recognition technology that’s designed to help prevent thefts and robberies by controlling who’s allowed into the store.

A sign at the front of the store reads, “Look at camera for entry” and “Facial Recognition Technology In Use.” An automated voice tells approaching customers through a mounted speaker to look up at the camera.

KIRO 7 first learned about the facial recognition technology being used there from a customer, a regular at the store, who posted about it on Facebook after stopping by the 24-hour location at night last week.

“Tonight, I was confronted with a whole new Jackson’s,” she wrote. “You had to stare at the camera before they let you in.”

The woman said she was told by clerks that the technology is being used to cut down on thefts from the store.

“Sometimes I would walk out of there, jaw to the ground, at the in-your-face theft,” she wrote.

The sign out front said the facial recognition system is designed by Blue Line Technology.

The company said on its website that the technology is designed to help prevent thefts and robberies. Pictures of offenders can be put into the system and entry will be blocked if they show up at the store again.

We reached out to Jacksons Food Stores several times Monday to learn more about how the technology is being used, at what locations and at what hours. We have not yet heard back with details from the company.

A KIRO 7 crew drove to other nearby 24-hour Jacksons Food Stores but did not see the same signage posted regarding facial recognition technology.

We spoke with customers outside the store Monday who had mixed opinions on its use and privacy concerns.

"I walked in, there was a machine saying ‘hey look up for the camera,’” said Burnis Herring. “It caught me off guard."

Herring said he wasn’t a fan of the technology.

"I think it just gives them the right to be prejudice towards people if they don't like them,” said Herring.

Other people agreed.

"Seeing it in places like China right now, especially; it's becoming like a social credit score thing and that's, I think, the scariest part of it,” said Olivia Langen.

Still, some customers didn’t mind.

"I don't think I have anything to hide,” said Cardie Yarbor. "It kind of messes with your privacy, you know, and then the other hand, they're just trying to do everything they can to stop people from stealing from the store."

On Tuesday, Jacksons issued a statement regarding the facial recognition software installed at the store.

"At Jacksons Food Stores, the safety of our customers and employees is our number one priority.  We are in the early stages of testing new technology that utilizes facial recognition software. This particular solution has shown to significantly reduce incidences of crime for other similar retailers.  That said, no solution is perfect, and we acknowledge public apprehension behind facial recognition software. It is important, however, to understand our system does not share, receive, or transmit any information or facial images to any other database. Our self-managed database is not connected to any other platform and all captured information is stored for less than 48 hours. The only exception would be in cases when a crime is committed. Video monitoring has become nearly ubiquitous in many public and private environments because of its proven ability to deter crime or to help law enforcement catch criminals. Here at Jacksons we are exploring whether such technology could result in a safer place for our customers to shop and for our staff to work. “

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