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Borders Nixes Face Recognition 239

Posted by Hemos
from the good-move dept.
jeffy124 writes "Due to recent criticisms surrounding their implementation of face-recognition technology to watch known shoplifters, Borders Bookstores is suspending the approach. This doesn't mean it's gone for good, it may return in the future. They want to resolve the issues brought up by privacy and human-rights activists."
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Borders Nixes Face Recognition

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  • Good (Score:1, Funny)

    by antis0c (133550)
    Because the borders down the street from me has a nice collection of O'Reilly books, not to mention a bazillion other computer books, and I would have hated to have to boycott them.. Best computer bookstore ever. (In my area at least)

    • Because the borders down the street from me has a nice collection of O'Reilly books, not to mention a bazillion other computer books, and I would have hated to have to go somewhere else to steal my books.
  • I wouldn't want a picture of me picking my nose while reading Wired to get out on the net. What would I tell my parents?
  • There are lots of unpleasant things that businesses could do that they don't do because people won't put up with them. It's important that this dynamic be put to work in the privacy area. If people won't put up with this, it won't happen.

    Eternal vigilance, and all that.
    • Seems to me that such outcries without significant punishment or legal censure against future attempts are just signals to companies to keep this stuff in the back room.

      It isn't too farfetched an idea- pretty much all of any large company's head staff would agree with such a plan, if it made their cost ratings better. A system such as this could be implemented without the knowledge of the store's staff (loss prevention in most large stores works as a hermetically sealed subsection of the store, so that all employees can be monitored freely) and if it made a difference, well, that would be one more reason for it to stay, and stay hidden.
      • How do you keep it hidden when you have to kick out the first customer that your system THINKS is a criminal?

        How do you keep it hidden when the first innocent person with enough time, money and guts SUES you?

        • If properly implemented, you wouldn't actually kick out the customer, you'd merely have a staff member watch her extra closely. As long as you have your standard "you may be monitored" disclaimer, and you don't actually detain/kick out someone until s/he steps out the door with the merchandise, I don't see any grounds for a lawsuit.
          • Just wait until a black female wanders around the store and wonders why she's being followed around by a horde of "plainclothes" security, followed by a botched bust outside the door. You'll see the lawsuit then, but by then the system will be in place and it'll be too late to effect any meaningful change.
  • Hmmm... Guess someone's comment yesterday about objections on /. just reducing tech book sales by a couple percentage points was a bit understated. ;-)
  • Why do large companies like Borders announce implementations of things like this, suspend them upon complaints and then review things like customer's rights to privacy? Are these only an issue when people complain?

    I swear, one day I'll just have to make my own company so I can make a point of not doing evil things like this.

    • Are these only an issue when people complain?

      Apparently, yes. I'm certain that companies having been doing all sorts of things that no one is aware of and that the general public would find appalling, if they knew about it.

      On the other hand, I would rather see companies willingly forgoe certain activities due to public pressure as opposed to having it regulated and legislated to death. The basic premise of a company wanting to protect itself from theft should not be undermined.

      - tokengeekgrrl

    • I hope it never happens to you, but one day, you may sit in on a upper-level management meeting of a large company.

      It is an interesting contrast between utter horror that such morons can 'be in power', and monty-python-like humor, at their utterly retarded suggestions and plans.
      • Sad but true...I have never understood the principle by which such appalling specimens of the species achieve positions with real power.


        OTOH...if you can get in to these meetings you have the chance to shine, because the background has a very low albedo !

    • Why do large companies like Borders announce implementations of things like this, suspend them upon complaints and then review things like customer's rights to privacy? Are these only an issue when people complain?

      Why not? It makes good business sense. Lots of places have security cameras, no one really would have cared if that's all they wanted. I have no idea how much they lose to shoplifting but it might be enough to financially justify installing such a system. From their point of view they are just protecting their possessions from theft.

      Clearly someone knew that people might be upset by this, otherwise there is no point in announcing it, you just start doing it. Instead they sat down, told people what they wanted to do and waited to see the reaction. Now they've realized that it isn't a reasonable thing to do unless they can seriously reassure the people of their privacy.

      I bet we still see systems like this appear, but it isn't a place like Border's that will likely stand up and take the intial flak. Perhaps casinos, banks, or some other place where security truly matters will be the first.
      • Casinos are already implementing this sort of technology. IIRC, The Learning Channel ran a special "behind the scenes" report on casinos in which they demonstrated face-recognition software. Again IIRC, it used spatial-relations criteria to identify known cheaters and thieves (even if they were disguised).
  • But Barnes & Noble employees can't do anything about shoplifters, except ask a customer "if they need help." Most stores don't have loss-prevention officials working at them either, and only managers can actually say something along the lines of an accusation to customers.
    So, provided Borders is the same as B&N, how exactly would a recognition system help them out? No one is there to watch it! Would it alert managers, or would they have to hire more loss prevention? Or does Borders work entirely different?
    • i worked for kmart back in hs. here's the guidelines we had:

      We have store security dressed in street clothes patrolling the store. Employees know who s/he was. Same people usually spend most time in the room watching all the cameras (no, we didnt have cameras in the dressing rooms or bathrooms, so dont go there), or in the lofts looking out the one-way windows.

      But not every shift could be covered, hence some shifts had no security staffed.

      If staffed and you see suspicous activity, notify security. Otherwise, ask if you can help the person. Also attempt to give assistance if you think the suspicous person saw you. Another option is make a fake "Security section 7" call. This scared most shoplifters.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I used to work at my local Borders. Company policy is not to do anything confrontational in the case of theft or suspected theft. Just call the police.

      There have been many times when I had watched hundreds of dollars of merchandise walk out the door, and was told to do nothing. This is not so strange, actually, in the big corporations.

      The thing about Loss Prevention is, or at least it was at my old company, if you know someone is going to shoplift, or is likely to shoplift, keep an eye on them at all times. The professional thieves know when they're being watched, and won't do anything illegal in that case. And yes, usually when a thief hit any of our stores, they were usually sighted coming back. I have no doubt face-recognition would help stop thievery.
    • Staples is the same way, the most they can do is that the manager can stand in front of the door refusing to move until the cops get there.. and hope he is assulted. Great system :)
    • > how exactly would a recognition system help them out? No one is there to watch it! Would it alert managers, or would they have to hire more loss prevention?

      It would trigger the lasers mounted around the store to burn the offender to a crisp.

      Our actuaries have shown that the expense of the lawsuits resulting from false positives would be offset by the amount saved due to reduced shoplifting, and we feel that our obligations to our shareholders require us to take the route that does most for the bottom line. People whose faces look like shoplifters are advised to shop elsewhere for their own safety.
  • Translate "they want to resolve the issues brought up by privacy and human-rights activists" to 'they will wait until the furor dies down, then slide it in quietly when the activist's attention is devoted elsewhere.'

    Or am I cynical? Most of the times there is an outcry against a new measure, the underlying economical motivation by the corporation does not change. Instead, they realize the PR costs have increased.

    Faced with either rejecting the idea totally due to PR issues, or just waiting until the PR climate chances and they can proceed, it makes sense to just wait, then implement the perfectly good and economically sound idea once the controversy is passed.

    Very rarely do such ideas go away just because of complaints, unless it's for a service-focused part of the business. And catching thieves isn't service-focused.

  • The real reason I think the crime has decreased due to the use of this is other countries is because it causes a great deal of intimidation. Kind of like a death penalty: If you kill someone and get caught, you know you'll most likely die. Or the hidden police cruisers: You don't know if the car next to you while you're speeding is occupied by an officer or not, so you don't speed as much.

    I'm sure that this does help pinpoint shop-lifters for monitoring by the store, but I think alot of it is intimidation.
    • Kind of like a death penalty: If you kill someone and get caught, you know you'll most likely die.

      Unfortunately that's not true, at least in the US.

      The smart money says the criminals look for more private ways to make money.

      Maybe they could go into politics, for instance.
    • "Kind of like a death penalty: If you kill someone and get caught, you know you'll most likely die. "

      Um, no. Hasn't the notion of the death penalty as a deterrent been pretty well rejected by now? Witness Texas: most executions per murder conviction, and yet the homicide rate is still as abnormally high as ever.
  • by sllort (442574) on Monday August 27, 2001 @09:19PM (#2223771) Homepage Journal
    Another example of "Trial balloon management".

    The formula:
    - We'll announce that we're doing something, but only introduce it on a low cost basis into a small target market.
    - We'll watch the reaction.
    - If it's bad, we'll denounce ourselves and retract our low cost trial balloon.
    - If it works, we'll exploit the hell out of it.

    This formula has been applied with both results to:
    - SmartTags
    - Windows Activation
    - Borders Face Recognition
    - Skylarov
    - Implementation as a "Trade Secret" (ms & kerberos)
    ... and on & on.

    Other examples?
    • Automobiles, airplanes, public mail, the Internet, broadband, artificial hearts, organ transplants, Big Macs, lowfat milk, organic food, vaccinations, ultrasounds, microwaves, cable TV, PVRs, linux.
  • "Attention! Please be advised that, by your entry upon these premises, you are consenting to being photographed, and having your ugly likeness used in a filthy motion picture, and for other purposes.."

    Now all you need is the "store greeter" loudly announcing this every few minutes as people enter the store.


    *I* for one would like to see Lee Ving or Exene Cervenka hired as the friendly helpful greeter at my local Boarders, but I think that might scare a few people away...

    • This sounds like the signs that pop up at Great America every now and then. Saying something like "Filming is being conducted in the park today. Purchase of your park ticket indicates your consent to appear, uncompensated, in promotional materials. If you do not wish to be filmed, do not remain in the area." If you don't like it, then stay away! Anyhoo, I'm having difficulty focusing in on the fine line between this, and having live people monitoring hidden cameras or undercover security wandering the store looking for shoplifters. Personally, I think having undercover security alerted to your presence by computer is less of a "human rights violation" than getting "profiled" by undercover security, then getting followed around just because you "look" like a criminal.
  • privacy? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by amoken (207870)
    What does this have to do with privacy? Borders is a corporation, and its property is private property. If they want to implement something like this, it's fine to complain to them on various grounds, such as that the technology can't be trusted (as though a person could), but to attack them on privacy grounds is absurd. If someone said you couldn't enter their house without being photographed or under video surveillance or whatever, would you attack them on privacy grounds, or would you just leave and tell them they were being silly? It is not your right to shop at Borders.
    • No one said Borders didn't have the right to do this (as you say, being a corporation, private property, etc.). What the public is saying is, "Fine, do this and I'll shop elsewhere."

      The free market in action. And it works.

      • It only works when people have alternatives. If every single bookstore in the entire world used face recognition software, it wouldn't matter what the public thinks -- companies would do whatever helps their bottom line. After a few years, it would seem perfectly normal and people would be complaining about something else.
        The free market only works when there is truly diversity and a multitude of choices -- and the long term trend realized by corporate America is anything but.
    • Re:privacy? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by sludgely (447712)
      Borders is entitled to do whatever it wants inside its own stores, but the consumer does not have to stand for it. Also, if what they are doing leads to descrimination or if there are mix ups like there have been in the past, it could most likely lead to problems. Most people are afraid of what this technology can lead to and will therefor shop elsewhere. Borders needs to decide its priorities.
    • Nice use of the term, "TANSTAAFL".
    • Re:privacy? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by NMerriam (15122)
      What does privacy have to do with government? Is it not possible to have privacy from a corporation?
    • Re:privacy? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by ClipDude (31730) <chris@@@clipdude...com> on Monday August 27, 2001 @11:10PM (#2224055) Homepage Journal
      What does this have to do with privacy? Borders is a corporation, and its property is private property.

      Just because a corporation is involved, and it involves that corporation's private property, doesn't mean there aren't privacy issues involved. Let's pretend my school installed a secret camera in my dorm's bathroom and videotaped me showering. Of let's say they put in my room and recorded my conversation with my girlfriend. Either of these, would they to occur, would involve a (not-for-profit) corporation doing something on its private property. It's not my right to go to school there (as the admissions department reminds unlucky applicants every year). But if my school did either of these things, I would be quite upset, and would consider them to be an invasion of my privacy.

      Let's think of it another way: Do you shop at Safeway (or any of their subsidiary stores)? Do you use their Club Card? Now, what might have you purchased at Safeway that you wouldn't want the world to know? Condoms? Birth control pills from their pharmacy? Anti-depressant medication from their pharmacy? Hemorrhoid treatments? If you have purchased any of these things, and use a Club Card, it's probably in their database. A private corporation chronicling what occurs on their property. But you would be upset if they put that on their web site, wouldn't you?

      • Uhm, sign up for a Club Card using fake information. Concerned about Borders? Wear a big hat. Or, better yet, shop at an independent bookstore that acts responsibly. It's easy.
        • > Uhm, sign up for a Club Card using fake information.

          Or, more easily: don't use the club card for these types of purchases.

          If you sign up for a Club Card using fake information, be aware that many stores send out "newsletters" to club members. And they might notice if these bounce...

    • Re:privacy? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Sarcasmooo! (267601)
      IMO, the question is whether or not a corporation can be trusted with today's technology. My answer is no, and if they'd like to use video cameras the information gathered and the tapes made should be restricted to law enforcement only; meaning they would be destroyed if there were no criminal investigation involved. Consider the issue of ad-cookies, that are basically worm viruses that track and profile people without their permission. If Borders or any other business is allowed to dictate the use (and abuse) of it's surveillance system, and with face recongnition software no less, what you'll soon see are complete profiles of everyone based on their race, sex, hair color, and what they read. After that, how far does it go? Slashdot has done stories on people who've been turned down on loans for missing a $50 bill from a CD-by-mail scam when they were 18 years old. Information brokers will make the demographic profiles from places like Brokers available to anyone who has money.

      When so many people are taking sides against consumers, how far are we from seeing people refused insurance, turned down by adoption clinics, and fired from their jobs for reading something that made them look bad? It isn't a question of private property, it's a question of ethical business and the theft of consumers' rights.
    • Borders said they were using this to find known shoplifters. They do this by taking pictures of every person that walks in the store and comparing their face metrics with a database. There is no way to know how long people pictures stay in the database or that they are not becoming part of the database as they link this information with other customer information(borders preferred customer cards? or Amazon database information.) They could then create a profile of your purchases, visit frequency, credit history and coordinate this with any other information they can get from other "partner" companies like doubleclick.

      Borders does not have to serve everyone, especially freedom/privacy loving freaks like me. Before they could bar me from entry I wrote them a nice little email and let them know that they could kiss my business goodbye if they implemented this system.

      If borders does not have a right to collect and record this information without informing people who enter their store. A retailer must accept cash in return for goods and services without requiring additional information. Its legal tender. They have to take it. There are laws against recording, archiving and coordinating credit card information. Traditionally consumers have been afforded a certain level of privacy when making purchases. Because it is technologically feasible to track individual shoppers does not mean that it is ethical or even legal.
    • Interesting. I think your view of the legal system is slightly skewed, though. You see, it is our right to shop at any store we wish - that is a protected right that was fought for in the 60s, remember? I should be able to walk into any store and make a purchase - that is my right.

      Now, the question comes about of what rights do the stores have in controlling inventory? Plenty. They have the right to prosecute a crime when the crime is committed and the suspect is caught. However, why is there the assumption that a known shoplifter is going to shoplift again? What if you shoplifted something at 18 as an initiation or prank at college and were caught. How would you at, let's say, 28 feel if you knew that the store manager at the Borders you were in was watching you because the facial recognition software recognized you when you entered the store?


      Face recognition, in many cases, throws away the idea that a party is innocent until proven guilty - even if they have committed a crime before.


      This is a privacy matter, amoken. Just place yourself in the situation. A corporation still has to abide by the laws that we want the government and ourselves to abide by. If the corporations don't abide by them, and we don't expect them to, how can we hold the government to those standards? If the RIAA gets their way and manages to 'fingerprint' music, and know when you're listening to what track, and who you copied/burned/ripped that track off of, and what other music you're listening to, then how do we stop the government from doing the same thing?


      Same privacy issue. Open your eyes and look around.

  • heh (Score:2, Funny)

    by IanA (260196)
    what bigwig at borders actually thought this was a good idea and that the public wouldn't be pissed?

    how stupid can people be..
  • Pardon my naivete, but doesn't tagging the books work?


    There are always these huge detectors along the entrances, anyway. Most bookstores tag their books, and if you limit the kind of packages that people can take in, you should be able to control theft pretty well.


    Besides, even with facial recognition, how are you going to define and detect "suspicious" behavior? Software might be smart enough to track both visible and obscured objects, but it could also make mistakes. Juggling books might also confuse the software.


    Tagging the books might be better, and it doesn't raise all the questions about privacy and stuff. Of course, you need to make sure that the tags aren't removed...

    • with facial recognition, how are you going to define and detect "suspicious" behavior

      It doesn't, as the name would might suggest, it recognizes faces and compares them to a database of known criminals.
    • Uh, we're talking about identifying known shoplifters. Juggling books is not likely to confuse facial recognition software.

      Hmm... maybe if you're juggling books with faces on the cover?

    • Pardon my naivete, but doesn't tagging the books work?


      Not really, I worked at Officemax, Best Buy and Compusa. Officemax and CompUsa had those electronic tags attached to a laptop. I'm sure you've seen them they're usually black with wires running under the counter to a power source and an alarm. You'd be amazed at what thieves can come up with. Every so often we'd find a razor blade where a laptop should be. It turns out if you slip a razor blade between the sticky side and the laptop it'll hold down the button and not go off while you pry the laptop out.

      BestBuy had/has those white tags, the ones the Borders puts in the books and on the CDs. Next time you buy a CD try this out: Grow your fingernails a bit long, not too long but maybe a millimeter longer then usual. Slip your fingernails under the tag use at least two maybe 3 fingers and drag them across the CD. It'll pop right off, there might be a little adhesive left. It might take you a try or two but eventually you'll have those tags off faster then they can run them over that little pad. That will only work on CDs that have the tags on the outside of course, I've noticed that some DVDs I've bought had the tags on the inside, I don't know if CDs are going toward that as well.

      Totally off topic, the best thief that ever hit any store I worked at walked out with over $10,000 of stuff in about an hour. That's just a guess because we never knew what all they took. It was Christmas and the store was hopping, We had people standing 4-5 deep to talk to a sales guy so there was no way we could watch the floor. It was hell, the supervisor noticed 2 of the highend laptops misssing. The other employee's thought he'd sold them "as is", nope instead we found the steel bars holding the laptop in place had been sawed through with a small hand saw, kinda like the ones you have on a swiss army knife. Management was ticked, turns out they took a few items from video too, camcorders I believe. Security watched the tape that night with the police, they could never spot who did it. They had a guess or two but thats about it.

      Stealing is a HUGE problem for retail stores, but for all of what I've said, I'd guess 75% is from employees or ex-employees. Hell there were managers taking things at BestBuy, they'd just edit it out of inventory. Upper management found out some how and busted around 20 people. Now that was fun to watch, the guy riding your ass all year being escorted out in handcuffs. :-)
      • > It turns out if you slip a razor blade between the sticky side and the laptop it'll hold down the button and not go off while you pry the laptop out.

        > Next time you buy a CD try this out: Grow your fingernails a bit long, not too long but maybe a millimeter longer then usual. Slip your fingernails under the tag use at least two maybe 3 fingers and drag them across the CD. It'll pop right off, there might be a little adhesive left. It might take you a try or two but eventually you'll have those tags off faster then they can run them over that little pad.

        Sounds to me like you're distributing information about circumvention devices.

        Moving on to related topics...

        When I was a kid I heard on the radio that a couple of guys shoplifted a canoe from a sporting goods store, but got busted when they came back to get paddles and stuff.

        Of course, I suspect that most news stories of this type are made up, but at least this one was funny.
      • Employee theft accounts for the vast majority of property stolen. When I last read stats on it it was something around 90% (in the early '90s). Menards (a hardware chain based out of Minneapolis IIRC) a few years back went to the trouble of personally searching every employee as they left work. Don' t know if they still do that.

        Anyway, there's plenty of ways to steal stuff. A prime method is to read some old Loompanics (http://www.loompanics.com) books. While dated, they offer the tricks of the trade. Of course, they are supposed to be used for *stopping* these things. Knowledge being a two edged sort and all that.

        Also most tags (at least used to) be nullified by running a electro magnetic charge over them. That's the thing they use when they pass the merchandise over it.

        Of course, I don't shoplift (having had money in the past to buy what I wanted), but running a small bookstore back in 91-93 you needed to know how this was done.
  • by waltmarkers (319528) <waltmarkers@gmai l . com> on Monday August 27, 2001 @09:38PM (#2223834)
    May I just say, one private bookstore maintaining their own database of shoplifters shutting down is no doubt a victory for the privacy cause; it is a small victory. What if say, Borders got togeather and shared the system and database with, say, B&N. And they, in turn, shared with say another chain, say Walmart.

    Well, it quickly becomes apparant where I'm going with this, you would have a very large database with lots of camaras that would be able to identify someone very quickly almost anywhere. Now, lets say some of these camaras are mouted by checkouts, they can place a face, to a name, and address, and credit card, and from there they have a full profile on you.

    Applications: Hmm, who in my store right now is know for not paying off thier bills, who here talks a long time and doesn't buy anything? I won't help them. Who here is a real sucker for a sale and will buy whatever I tell him to? What does this guy want/ need / like / already have? Well, I won't serve person A and I'll give the slick Willy approch to person B.

    Now let's say an institution already had lots of cameras set up to do this very thing, and they were already in the intial phases of it. That would be a very down right terrifing thought. Well, don't look now but it is, the British Government and many many other institutions.
    What additional technology does my fear take to impliment? None.

    Do you trust the governments of the world not to share this information or use it properly for your good? Neither do I.

    There is only one solution, the cameras and system must be disabled. Each and every single last one of them. Write anyone who will listen, do your part, get them down before Jim and Borders that you've never walked into before says "Hello, Mr. Nobody, Good to see you today, may I show you the new copy of Wired and the new Playboy that you buy every month?"
    • Does anyone else see waltmarker's two examples as potential benefits for your standard consumer (you and I).

      I pay my bills on time, and I don't tie up service reps with stupid questions. Cool, they'll know not to make me wait 30 minutes while they're occupied with a nitwit or someone who doesn't pay their bills.

      Additionally, their system recognizes me, and they know I absolutely can't stand sales people talkigng to me. Cool, they let me browse in peace until I have a question for them.

      Do I trust the government not to share this information? Doesn't really matter for me, I have nothing to hide, and I don't plan on shoplifting or using bad credit cards anytime in the future... So this issue is sort of irrelevant from my perspective....
      • But what if say, there was a mix up, and something made it's way on to your credit report (That shouldn't be there) as it often does. Every sales person you talk to could remind you to pay bill X thor the rest of your life.

        Now let's say this truely does become a large scale comercial cooperative network. Call me Mr Burgler, ok I'm thinking what rich guys aren't home right now and far away from their home. Bingo, this whole family is 2 hours awy from thier home! I can go on a little shopping trip of my own! Talk about casing a place, this would make it dreamy. You really think you would be able to hide from anyone? Jury Duty, Balif, go pick up juror X from location Y. Warents, hits, anyone, anytime for ANY REASON could find you.

        But I pay my bills on time, I don't have anything to hide. I'll sacrifice a little privacy for a little service. Why not? Thought so.
        • eh, good point on the home burgler thing, except maybe I'd have my own at home video system :)

          Your credit report analog, though, is by far the best reason I've seen yet on this forum as to why we should be concerned about these systems. Then again, I think credit rating report systems are a good thing, and believe me, I've seen plenty of my friends get screwed over by these things. But in the end, the problem really isn't that the credit report exists, it's that there's no good system for removing an incorrect entry.

          I think what these video recognition systems really need, is a legal incentive to insure that the cost of a false positive is very high. That way, it would be the burden of the seller to ensure that their databases/reports are correct, unlike the way it currently is with credit reports.
      • I think that's completely unethical. My bills don't ALWAYS get payed on time, and my money is just as good as yours. What makes you better than me, the fact that your credit card has more buying power? WHat if I'm paying in cash and their ISN'T a bill?
    • From the parent:

      May I just say, one private bookstore maintaining their own database of shoplifters shutting down is no doubt a victory for the privacy cause; it is a small victory. What if say, Borders got togeather and shared the system and database with, say, B&N. And they, in turn, shared with say another chain, say Walmart.

      From the article:

      The software, sold by Minnetonka, Minn.-based Visionics Corp., fights shoplifting by constantly comparing images of shoppers captured by a store video camera against a police database of known criminals, according to information on Visionics' Web site.


      That's exactly what they are doing. And you are right to be afraid of this. Despite what the Libertarian nay-sayers are saying, this is not a corp compiling a database. This is a corp working in conjuncture with local law enforcement, using their database. I think allusions to corporate police state are appropriate here. Americans may have laws to prevent double jeopardy, but apparently the Scarlett Letter punishment slipped through the cracks.


      The article in the previous /. story did not mention who was maintaining the database of pictures. Now that I know it is a police database, I am more against this than ever.

      • The only problem with the mass application of the Scarlet Letter punishment in America, is that Americans consistently waste no time making their Scarlet Letter the Red Badge of Courage. Countercultural judo.

        If I can't come into a store because I was late on a bill, I go to a store that doesn't care. And if every store cares, then I go to the black market. Yeah, it may cost more but so what, i'll still be able to get it.

        No argument at all that we're living in a corporate police state. I personally feel the similarities to China are far higher than most in either country care to admit or even let themselves believe. But legal and illegal are just a matter of money and influence anyways, and the all important rule "it's only wrong if you get caught" applies not only to us, but to the other side of the tracks as well. Maybe if all this stuff gets forced in, we'll see a higher percentage of high muckety-mucks getting their asses handed to them where normally they'd get off scot free. Camera never lies, eh.

      • Re:Police database (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Chasuk (62477)
        I really don't see the big deal.

        Let's look at it from several perspectives.

        First scenario:

        Suppose that I am an employee at a large department store. I've worked there for many years, and I've been present during the apprehension of shoplifters who were arrested and convicted of their crime. One day at work I see on of these former perpetrators enter the store. Would it be unreasonable for me to monitor their activities with especial care?

        Second scenario:

        There is a concealed room above the same department store where a team of observers sit, watching the shoppers as they enter. These observers have photos of known shoplifters taped to the walls of their hideaway, and they are comparing the faces of the all of the patrons (honest and dishonest) with the faces of the known perpetrators. Is this unreasonable?

        Addendum to scenario 1:

        I follow a customer one day because I believe that he/she is a former shoplifer, only to realize that I was wrong, and that my facial recognition skills are not as acute as I had imagined. The store detective (who I notified) wasted half an hour.

        Addendum to scenario 2:

        One of the trained observers in the hideaway erroneously identifies an honest customer as a shoplifter. The store detective wasted half an hour.

        Scenario 3:

        Automated software performs the same comparisons that the trained observers performed, only it does this with extreme efficiency. It occasionally makes mistakes, and on this occasion it made a mistake on the same day that I did. The store detective wasted another half an hour.

        Final proviso:

        In each of the these instances, no arrests were made, because none of the suspects were observed taking unpaid merchandise from the store.

        I ask: does the method of observation matter?
        • Yes. The method of observation matters. As a person you are aware of the difficulty when comparing faces. You are open to the possibility of making mistakes, and you will be predisposed to doubt your judgement.

          When a computer does the same thing, the programmers will have been working overtime to meet deadlines, they'll have cut corners, the salesmen will inflate and improve their products performance, and bedazzled believers will actually trust the computer to make the right call.

          I read they were thinking about installing the same system in the London underground. With the addition of showing the suspects face on monitors so other passengers can watch out for the suspect. How long do you think it would be before some poor sod, mistakenly identified as a rapist or something, has an unfortunate 'accident' and falls under an approaching train?

          Sure, that idea is even more appalling, but the problem is the same, you'll have a huge amount of false positives in the average day and people have a really really bad habit of actually trusting computers. They have no implicit feeling of personal responsibility, because it's not a question of their own judgement.

          In my opinion, facial recognition software is of limited use, and in cases such as these it would be a grave misuse of the technology. The false positive rate is in the order of several magnitudes too large to be acceptable, and I dont think it will be possible to improve it enough to matter. Faces simply arent unique enough to support identification on their own when you are talking about comparing thousands or hundreds of thousands of faces per day to a database. Mixing that with the implicit trust a lot of people place in technology is not a good idea.
  • nice to know that every once in a while a company actually listens to the consumer.
  • Trusting Borders to resolve and reconcile issues brought up by activists is like trusting them what got Microsoft's money, the government, to prosecute Microsoft.

    A little comparison here.

    Microsoft gets called a monopoly, gets threatened with breakup, probably WON'T get broken up since this got transferred to a new judge. They come out with XP and .NET, and continue on their merry way because the Punishment bullet of the government, anti-trust prosecution, has already been shot, at least for the nonce!

    Borders takes down its technology, "resolves" issues by doing something stupid like appointing a committee or a hearing board or something like that, or some kind of diversity officer.

    Or there may be some other corporate solution that is cooked up by a lawyer in order to meet the constitutional requirements while conferring the bottom-line benefits, such as lower insurance premiums for the stores, that these cameras were designed to provide.

  • by darkPHi3er (215047) on Monday August 27, 2001 @09:43PM (#2223855) Homepage
    one of the interesting clashes brewing between the EU and the USA is the ongoing "ratcheting up" of intrusive and obtrusive "ubquitious surveillance" in the UK...

    the British people, after decades of things going "BOOM!" in the middle of London and other cities, have choosen to turn over many of their privacy rights (which are far fewer to start with in the UK than the USA, NO Bill of Rights in Limey Land)

    here's a link (from last august, was also covered on /. as i recall) to a Salon dot com article on email surveillance of Americans in the UK ....

    http://www.salon.com/tech/feature/2000/08/23/bri ti sh_carnivore/

    the recent tussle in Florida (WHY is it ***ALWAYS*** Florida????) over the use of face/rec is just the start of the argument over what s/f maven Bruce Sterling calls "perpetual surveillance", where any time we are in public, we are "on camera"..

    those who support it argue that "personal crimes" mugging, robbery, rape, etc will be drastically reduced and more criminals will be caught and imprisoned and that living in a "fish bowl" is a small price to pay for the additional safety...the Brits seems to have bought this argument hook, line and sinker

    if some organization(s) don't emerge to make sure that our "analog" privacy protections are transferred by law and statute to the digital world, which, so far, by and large they have not....our digital lives will become simple currency for the governments and corporations to trade in (Terry Gilliam, Prophet)

    the corporations and their proxies, RIAA, MPAA, BSA, et al have their plans for our data, and so far, the US and European governments have either gone along with the corporations or just stood on the sidelines

    The Bill of Rights needs to be attached to our digital identities, realms, behaviours ASAP, now's the time to support the EFF, or don't be surprised iff keyboard sniffers are built into OSs in the next decade...

    We're all in it together...
    • Some of us in the UK are actually *shit* scared of the way our privacy rights are being tossed away.



      We have the largest amount of CCTV camera's per person of any country in the world, and that fscking scares me.



      Unfortunately, the standard, Daily-Mail reading, Princess Diana-loving, middle-England middle-class thick-as-pigsh*t Thatcherite that makes up most of the country brings up the old "Well, if you've got nothing to hide, then there's nothing to be afraid of" sh*te.

    • > the British people, after decades of things going "BOOM!" in the middle of London and other cities, have choosen to turn over many of their privacy rights

      And that stopped all the bombing, right?

      [OT:]

      > Ten quid, she's so easy to blind. And not a word is spoken...
      My baby's countin' never cause you alarm;

      My baby's brother never break-a-your arm.
      Sorry; just showing off that I caught the reference.
    • A small lesson on the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and any other Ammendments, apply only, solely, and specifically to lawful interactions between the government and the populance. It does not rule over interactions between two citizens, or between a corporation and a citizen.

      In other words, while you can stand on a street corner and say that Congress' spending is financial misconduct, you have NO GOD-GIVEN (or Congress-given) RIGHT to stand at a Walmart aisle and say their trade practices are monopolistic. They can and probably will ask you to leave their private property. You have no choice but to suck it in.

      If Borders wishes you to leave their bookshop, they can make you leave their private property. If they wish to make everyone identified by their camera system leave, they can make you leave. If they say you're a known shoplifter and you aren't, you might be able to sue for libel/slander. However, they don't have to specify a reason. They may simply tell you to leave, and if it's their property, you're legally complied to do so.

      If it comes to the Huxlian nightmare where big corporations have you tagged, they might be committing the same mistake doubleclick and all those other ad companies made, in gathering too much personal information, even if it isn't linked to a name, phone number, credit card, or address.

      However, if your next door neighbor can recognize you at Walmart, so can Walmart recognize you as a returning visitor, or a shoplifter. If you don't wish to be recognized, by neighbor or Walmart, don't go, or wear a Clinton mask. The ones with the puffy pink cheeks.
    • Minor point, but our "Bill of Rights" [grolier.com] does exist and had done for some time before the US decided to have one. Perhaps rather than just throwing a term around you should explain exactly what rights British Citizens don't have.

      Anyway, here are a couple of choice quotes from the link above:

      "The English Bill of Rights, enacted by the Convention Parliament on Dec. 16, 1689, is one of the three great landmarks of the English constitutional tradition, the others being Magna Carta (1215) and the Petition of Right (1628). "

      "The specific clauses of the Bill of Rights can be grouped into three broad categories: ..... 3) provisions guaranteeing certain individual freedoms and procedural safeguards against impairment by governmental power, for example, the right of petition, prohibitions of excessive bail, and reaffirmation of the right to jury trial."

      "A century later the English Bill of Rights served as an important source for the first 10 amendments to the Constitution of the United States. Thus, the clause in the English Bill of Rights prohibiting excessive bail and cruel and unusual punishments was taken over, virtually word for word, in the Virginia Bill of Rights of 1776 and ultimately became the 8th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States."
  • Too late, just bought a slew of O'Reilly books and some LInux titles at ReadMeDoc.com ... not only were they discounted 25 to 30% ... but they gave me a further discount for buying 5 or more books ...


    ... and again, the nice young lady at the register recognized the faces of me and my coworker ... with a warm greeting (something else I don't get at Border's these days).


    Oh, I'll go back ... especially now that they're not playing facial disgracial anymore ... but from now own, they won't be my first stop.

    • > ... and again, the nice young lady at the register recognized the faces of me and my coworker ... with a warm greeting (something else I don't get at Border's these days).

      See, Border's is just trying to use technology to stay competitive!

      They'll hook the cameras up to the cash registers, so when you check out the register can say "Thanks for your business, Bob. Come back soon."

      It will be every bit as friendly as your old store, without the expense of hiring friendly employees.

      If you're lucky they'll mis-recognize your face and put the till on some other sucker's credit card.
  • SCORE! +1 for privacy! i hope they don't go though with this EVER why? it won't stop people who are good from doing it.
  • is is because machines are watching us instead of a security person? are we scared of the machines?

    i'm being serious here. we now have face recognition software that works and thats great, and just get used to it.
  • In this week's US News and World Report, one of the journalists has an editoral [usnews.com] with regards to the use of cameras to catch red-light breakers and how Dick Amery (congressman) responded negatively to them. The journalist felt that Amery's fears were in the wrong place, in that with large numbers of accidents already happening from red lights, adding more cops actually at the scene, runnign red lights to catch those that break the law, would lead to more accidents. In other words, he felt there's a point where security and safety outweight privacy rights.


    While I'm sure we here on /. all agree that once you give up privacy for security, you start down a path where all privacy is given up, I think that the journalist's comments are a good representation of how the average American feels that their privacy rights should come after the safety of the nation. Sure, people stealing books from Borders aren't going to be hurting anyone, but there is little differnce between looking at everyone's face in a store and looking at everyone going through a light. And the question of who watches the watchers is raised, but the journalist appears to write this under the table, since the governments completely infallible (uh-huh).

    • > with regards to the use of cameras to catch red-light breakers

      Camera+radar speeding ticket generators have been around for decades, but never found wide-scale deployment in the USA. I've spent some time wondering why, and I conclude that the reasons are -
      • probably vandalism of the devices;
      • ineffectuality, because once people know about the devices they will slow down within their field of vision, and drive faster elsewhere to make up for it;
      • most importantly of all, if traffic violations resulted in a near certainty of getting a ticket, people would stop violating the traffic laws and ticket-based civic revenues would plummet.
      Also, I think the police by and large enjoy the cat-n-mouse games with violaters, and would be very disappointed to have it replaced by an automated system.

      Side note, especially relevant to my last bullet above: back in the 80's a lot of US cities got multi-million dollar federal grants of "get tough on crime" money, and at least one of them spent the money by putting 200 more cruisers out on speed trap duty.

      City governments tend to have odd notions about what their obligations to their citizens are.

  • I thought it said ... Nixon Faces Resignation

    Time for bed it seems.
  • what the hell is wrong with face recognition software? What's the difference between that and having some guy watch a security monitor for known offenders? Do people think when the software recognizes a face, it's going to send the person off to jail with no human intervention? Of course not...it's just going to notify a security person to keep an eye on the individual. If they don't take anything, no big deal. If they aren't who the computer thought they were, no big deal.

    Same with red light cameras. What's the difference between using them and having someone stationed at the intersection to watch for offenders? I've been caught by one myself...I'm now more careful about pushing the yellow lights. By the way, the photo led to a civil fine, not criminal, and there was no possiblity of it affecting my driving record. A fair tradeoff, I think.

    Rule of thumb: if you are in a public place, people will be able to see you, whether they do it with their eyes, through a camera, or assisted by software. Enough with the paranoia already.
    • The problem is that when a human is watching, they can make a JUDGEMENT. I think it's pretty abhorrent to have a computer decide who's guilty and who's innocent; who's a threat and who isn't. The question is, what data are Borders comparing the faces to, and what do they plan to do about it? If I was caught shoplifting when i was an angry young punk 15 year old, get my picture taken, get punished...then walk into a Borders store 10 years later they've got no right to send the security after me. I've been punished for what I've done, I've been handled by the HUMAN judicial system, it's all over. Depending how it's handled, this could be a true implementation of big brother-style enforcement. Criminal activity is no-longer handled by the police, courts and correctional services like it's supposed to be - suddenly it's in the hands of private citizens and corporations. I thought we got rid of the lynch-mob idea years ago!
    • OK - here's the scenario:

      FR tags _you_ simply 'cause you _look like_ some shoplifter/thug/pedophile/terrorist. Congratulations... you now must _prove_ your innocence! Do you think store security or the police are going to believe you, or believe your (possibly fake) ID? Nooo... at the very least you'll be approached by security (embarrassed in public), maybe escorted out (denied patronage, and further embarrassed), perhaps even cited for trespassing (inconvenienced to attend misdemeanor court, thus harrassed by official process) - and that's just for the shoplifter variant. Use your imagination for the others - forcible arrest and a night in jail, at least. At worst... shot dead.

      All made possible for millions of innocent, law-abiding citizens by FR tech of unknown accuracy installed without public consent by unaccountable corporations or even well-meaning but similarly unaccountable (and invariably stupid) government bureaucracies.

      The problem is... _you_ didn't _do_ anything but walk into the store, or across the street! This turns "innocent until proven guilty" on its head. In case you slept through HS civics class, that happens to be one of the foundations of the US criminal justice system (along with a few other things like "right to confront your accuser" - how the hell can you confront a camera and software? - and "right to avoid self-incrimination" etc. etc.). In a court of law (in the US), prosecutors can't mention previous convictions. Goodbye to that, in essence. With FR in widespread use, some poor goof who shoplifted somewhere *once* could be unable to even enter the local supermart, with money, to buy groceries to feed the spouse & kids. Are you sure you want to live in such a society? Not me.

      And any technology that can be abused, will be. San Diego has been accused of setting up "red light" cameras and cutting back the yellow time to pump up ticket revenues (by Dick Armey, U.S. Congress). And I believe it: you damsure cain't trust any of 'em gub'mint trough-hogs futher'n you can throw 'em. Remember that - it goes double for most inhuman corporations buying up our governments.

      • Beaverton, Oregon does the same thingf (right outside of Portland, where all the intel and textronics geeks are) installed the cameras at a whopping $15,000 to install and $10,000 to rent a MONTH (EACH!!! i.e. multiply x 4 for an intersection)
        The yellow lights used to be 3 seconds, but now are 2.3 seconds.
        BTW, these are not accusations, an independent study has been done.
        Personally, I wonder why the rent is so fucking high for these lights. I guess government corruption at its best, someone is definately making money.
  • and increasing data storage and processing capacity should concern everyone.

    You go to the Circle K and buy a couple packs of cigarettes. There's footage of your car and your face. Just analog data, no problem, right? Some are starting to scan your driver's license to validate your age when you buy beer.

    While driving home, you pass through 2 red light cameras and a photo speed trap. More data.

    You also remember to swing by the local Meijer's (Michigan Supermarket) and pick up those tampons for your girlfriend (you're a sensitive guy, or just have a wierd hangup.) More movies. You pay with your debit card. More data.

    If the local police dep't picks up one of those sweet daddy new IBM z-series servers with enough capacity to store and process all the data passing from our daily meanderings into digital form, we should be very concerned.

    They would now know you drink on Monday, smoke too much and your girlfriend is on the rag. Cross-checking the police dep't's databanks they might find a couple domestic violence incidents that coincide with certain lunar phases and this Monday happens to be at the beginning of one. You might have a new guardian angel hanging around for the next 5 days.

    Borders did the right thing. But, they could undo it in 3 months. I'd be amazed if there weren't at least 5 other major outlets that were implementing this technology with less media attention.

    We should be canvasing the hell out of our legislators to make illegal any mass accumulation of visual data that can single us out by digital processing equipment, now before we're no longer in a position to do so.

  • Borders is making a good PR move by rescinding the CCTV face recognition technology, but the knee jerk reaction I observe in this and the previous thread really bother me. Corporations are supposed to enjoy many of the same rights as private citizens. They can own private property, own inventory, obtain credit, take out loans, etc. In essence the corporation is a private citizen, responsible for its own actions, but able to enjoy many of the same freedoms that the public do.

    Now suppose a business implements a system along these lines. Another flurry of knee jerk complaints are sent, only this time to congressmen, senators, and the like. The complaints plead for new legislation to ban these devices. We would end up with laws which actually deny us our freedoms, rather than protect our privacy. I can envision such a law making call screening illegal. After all, you would be recording the person's voice for later analysis to determine if they are worthy of a call back. I can see telemarketing firms using just such a law to force us to answer the phone and speak with them.

    Even without legislation backing it up, what happens when my neighbor gets upset because I install a CCTV camera in my shed because I suspect he is stealing my tools? Should I feel obligated to not install the system because I might record someone else's face?

    Corporations definitely need to be sensitive to their customers feelings, but I fear the day when our freedoms become restricted behind the banner flag of privacy.
  • by volkris (694)
    I thoguht the face recognition was a good idea. If nothing else it could have meant lower cost of operation for them and perhaps lower costs to us consumers.

    I hate how overreactionary Slashdot is on things like this. It's simply not a problem at all.
  • If Borders would have implemented this syste, I would never go there again. This is getting rediculous.
  • No offense guys, but Borders is a corporation. They can do whatever they want with their store, just like I can do whatever I want in my home (as long as its legal).

    Are you guys against the store having security tapes as well? Someone could watch your every move, and know which isles you favor, and figure out what books you like, and when you check out, they could take your name down, contact your ISP, and have them put some smart tags on HTML sent to you, advertising more books. Then they could sell the database and ....

    Come on guys. If you're not in the database of known shoplifters, this isn't an invasion of privacy at all. If you did shoplift, then that was just pretty stupid.

    I swear, one of these days I'm going to come here and find everyone whining about the government not making it illegal to look at someone on the street.

    When you leave the privacy of your home, you enter the public world, where all the other functions have access to your methods and data. Calm down. Its always been this way, and it always will. If you don't like it, then stay home.

    Captain_Frisk

    Mod me down for opposing the hive mind.
  • I was hoping to paint my face blue like The Lone Gunmen did to see if that would foil their system.

    As time goes on I think we'll see more of these surveylance systems in place. In time no one will care about the privacy implications. If you stop to think about it, unless you pay for everything with cash big brother knows what you're doing and where you have been.

    And how many of us really buy our O'Reilly books at a store? Who has that much free time.
  • people steal books??
  • I lived in the U.S. for 4 months. In my first week, while riding the Metro out of D.C. I saw a guy who looked exactly like me. About the same age, same built, same face, same hair, only dressed with horrible taste. It was scary! People in the train were staring at us both. The guy was 100% absorbed in his reading, didn't even notice.

    After I got home and considering how newsmedia in the U.S. are quick to show faces, I began to wonder, what if this guy is some maniac or drug pusher? We lived in the same neighbohood! I must say, at least once a week this thought came back. Paranoid? Maybe, but this Borders episode is a dangerous precedent. I've seen this patetrn before: you set up a system and tell people it is somehow error prone. The system gets it right about 6 or 7 times in a row and whoever is in charge begins to trust the system and believe its alarms are forensic evidence.
  • plenty of books. no video cameras.
  • Response (Score:2, Informative)

    by AyMx (518130)
    I sent an email to borders discussing how much i was opposed to them installing this faceit software and here is the response i had received.

    Thank you very much for your expression of concern regarding the Glasgow
    Herald article ('Big Borders bookshop is watching you," Sunday 26 August).

    In common with most large retailers, we use security cameras throughout our
    stores as part of a range of security and loss prevention tools. We have
    overt cameras installed in public areas throughout the store, as well as
    behind the tills etc., for the protection of staff and customers. We do not
    use cameras in any private space.

    Borders (UK) Ltd. was approached by Dectel, the British distributors of
    SmartFace, to pilot its security system that is designed to identify known
    shoplifters. The device scans visitors entering a store and measures the
    distances between 80 facial features to create a unique digital "face map."
    The digital image is then converted to a mathematical formula and searches
    the database for a match. Visionics, the USA manufacturer of this system
    reports that images that are not matched on the database are discarded.

    Borders was offered a trial of this system in our two London store locations
    on Charing Cross Road and Oxford Street. We will not participate in a trial
    of the technology and have made no commitment to implement this security
    system.
    Borders strongly values the human rights and privacy of our staff and our
    customers. At Borders, we feel we have an obligation to provide a safe
    environment for our customers and staff. Just as important is our obligation
    to respond fully and honestly to customers' concerns. We promise to continue
    to do so, while offering the best range and service available anywhere.

    Thank you for contacting us.

  • Our great country has survived 225 years without the use of face recognition. We didn't need it then, and we don't need it now. This is just another example of the corporate mongers testing the boundries of privacy to pad their own private wallets.
  • Borders is normally big enough that face recignition won't help much. But my local record store needs this. Or to put it better, they need a system that will recignise me, and have the robotic shelves get rid of that garbage that passes for music nowadays and put in some real bluegrass.

    Now I know that 99% of the population or more can't stand blueGrass, but I like it. It wouldn't be hard to impliment this system either, though the investment in $$$ is a bit high yet.

    In a bookstore I want this to connect to my comptuer when I pick up a book, and my comptuer then sends a message (I don't want them to know what is on my bookshelf from a trip to Barns and Nobel) "You already own that book, but it is a worn copy." At which point I get the choice: a) buy it to replace the copy I've worn out, or B) find the copy in my bookshelf. this is a problem with some authors who have written many good books over their lifetime, which is a lot longer then mine (so far)

    Yes there are privacy issues, but it can serve me too, and I'd like the benifits of it.

  • ...why this is a bad thing.

    If you still don't understand, and you really want to know why, I implore upon you to read Database Nation [databasenation.com], for the truth, fallacies, meanings, and danger that surround the whole information/data analysis, collection, and distribution systems in use.

    This camera system doesn't match a face to another face - instead it matches data to other data. If the data can be changed, or used - it can be altered to "finger" anyone - and how do you prove which is the truth and which is the forgery? People are trusting now that "the computer is always right" - ever looked at your credit report? Pray that your name isn't "John Smith" or similar! Been denied credit lately?

    Read the book - it goes over all this and a lot more. FR tech and credit reporting is only the tip of the iceberg, unfortunately. It is only going to get worse, unless you really understand what can be done with this information, and then act to protect that information.

"Someone's been mean to you! Tell me who it is, so I can punch him tastefully." -- Ralph Bakshi's Mighty Mouse

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