By Anonymous | November 1, 2019
AI-powered checkout is on the rise. Amazon plans to open close to 3,000 new AmazonGo cashierless stores in the next few yearsi. Sensing the opportunity to disrupt a multi-billion-dollar industry, a slew of several competitors from Standard Cognition to Mighty AI have arisen to arm retailers with similar AI- powered camera checkout technology. The value is clear. For customers, a better, more convenient and quicker retail experience. For retailers, potentially higher sales, less theft, and lower costs. However, while most press around the technology centers around convenience and upside, one topic that has been missing from conversations is the potential data protection and privacy issues that may arise with computers tracking our appearance and movements in stores and using this massive treasure trove of data to subtly influence our daily lives.
First the technology. Using sensors and cameras, merchants can track what customers take off shelves and out of the store. Using a combination of computer vision, sensor fusion and deep learning, this “just walk out” technology can detect when products are taken or returned to the shelves and keeps track of them in your virtual cart. When you leave the store with your goods, your account is charged, and you are sent a receipt.
While the benefits are clear, there are several potential privacy concerns here from stores’ tracking and profiling customers. Let’s recall the infamous incident of target figuring out that a teen girl was pregnant before her father was awareii. With this technology, retailers will now have access to significantly more new granular behavioral information on customers than when the target incident occurred, including appearance, movement patterns, how long they peruse aisles before making a purchase decision and at what time and on which days they shop. Retailers and brands could use this information to target consumers in several ways that might appear intrusive. For example, you could go to a store to buy milk and cheese, only to have a store combine your appearance with your age and gender to target with a notification to buy skincare products for your skin ailment. And in a world with rising retail data breachesiii, adding visual information to the large existing treasure trove of data information retailers already have on consumers could make the consequences of future data beaches far more severe.
There are, however, a few simple steps that can be proactively taken by retailers to reduce potential future harm to users. Retailers can anonymize or remove all personally identifiable information not needed for business operations and transactions in their databases, avoiding the potential harm of data leaks or hacks and making it more difficult for hackers or other platforms to use data gathered to harm their customers. They can also give customers a heads up with signs outside stores that this information is being gathered so they are at least aware and offer direct discounts in exchange for targeted promotions. This way users would at least be aware that this data is being gathered have an option to turn around and not enter a store and they receive a tangible benefit in exchange. Customers should also be given an option to opt-in or not and have their data deleted if they chose to opt-out.
The domain of AI-powered checkout and the internet of things (IoT) technologies more broadly are in their infancy and the new data gathered could have large impacts on people’s lives in the future. New technologies today are developed so quickly that legal guidelines often lag, as they take time to form and be passed into law. The general public then needs to advocate lawmakers to create new regulations early in the development of these new technologies, so that customers can continue to benefit while also being protected from potential future harms.
 www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-09-19/amazon-is-said-to-plan-up-to-3-000-cashierless-stores- by-2021
 www.forbes.com/sites/kashmirhill/2012/02/16/how-target-figured-out-a-teen-girl-was-pregnant-before- her-father-did/