The latest VERY annoying change coming to Woolworths self-service checkouts
By Padraig Collins for Daily Mail Australia
00:28 February 21, 2023, updated 01:54 February 21, 2023
- Woolworths under fire for ‘treating every customer as a suspect’
- The supermarket giant’s latest technology raises privacy concerns
Australia’s largest supermarket chain Woolworths is under fire for new checkout technology that “treats every customer as a suspect”.
The new self-service system uses cameras and artificial intelligence (AI) to detect when items have been scanned incorrectly or not at all.
If the technology catches a customer doing a “miss scan”, e.g. B. when scanning fruit as a cheaper variety, a video shows the product and he is asked to scan it again.
“While most customers do the right thing at our self-checkout, we’re all busy and it’s easy to make mistakes.” a Woolworths spokesman told Daily Mail Australia.
“It helps reduce misscans and is one of several initiatives we’ve rolled out at our checkouts to make shopping more convenient and seamless.”
But Samantha Floreani of the Digital Rights Watch Group said the technology can make shoppers feel “like they’re being watched and recorded all the time.”
She said the checkout is changing touted as an improvement for customers, “but in reality it’s a punitive use of automation technology to reduce labor costs for large organizations while treating every customer as a suspect.
“This kind of surveillance normalization makes room for the increasing use of invasive technologies in everyday life to gain access to everyday essential services,” Ms Floreani said.
The checkout changes were tested a year ago at Woolworths in Seven Hills, a suburb of Sydney, and are now deployed in more than 250 stores across NSW, Victoria and Queensland.
The technology uses AI and is not viewed live by humans.
The company said detected faces will be blurred when the footage is reviewed by a person, preventing customers from being identified, while PIN pads will also be blacked out.
The recordings are also used as a training tool for Woolworths team members.
Missed scans can be products left in baskets or trolleys, or items that are not purchased because they are handheld.
A Woolworths customer in Sydney said this had happened to him twice before.
“I used the self-service checkout at my local Woolies and held in hand some of the shopping trolley wipes you get at the front desk.
“Suddenly, a message appeared on the screen asking if I had forgotten to pay. I had to ask a member of staff to push a few buttons so I could continue,” he said.
“It happened a second time when I had a bag from another store in my shopping cart and the screen asked me again if I forgot to pay for something. It’s very embarrassing.’
Ms Floreani said a similar thing happened to her when a piece of onion skin in her shopping cart was interpreted by the AI as a product that had to be paid for.
“It feels awful, it feels very accusatory,” she said. “It’s kind of embarrassing to be in a crowded supermarket with a flashing red light overhead.”
The controversial changes at Woolworths follow last year’s calls for a review of Australia’s privacy legislation with the rise of facial recognition and AI technology.
Other retailers such as Bunnings, Kmart and The Good Guys stopped using facial recognition technology after consumer group Choice expelled them for possible violations of the law.
Last week, US Attorney Mark Dreyfus’ department released its review of the Privacy Act, finding it not “fit for purpose” and failing to protect privacy in the digital age.
“It’s not just about the type of information that (retailers) might collect, it’s about the broader issue of being monitored while just going about your daily essential activities,” Ms Floreani said.
Kate Bower, data advocate at consumer group Choice, said AI-enabled and other technologies have seen rapid proliferation in retail spaces.
“Digital price tags and hyper-personalized ‘offers’ through loyalty programs have been popping up in major supermarkets in recent months,” she said.
“We urgently need legislative reform to ensure consumer and privacy protections keep pace with technological advances.
Woolworths said it has strict policies to protect customer privacy.
The signage will be placed on both the store front and at the entrance to the self-checkout area in each store using the AI technology.
The company is confident it is doing the right thing and its spokesperson said, “We would like to thank our customers for their support in making this initiative a reality.”