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Gay and trans bullying threat from Tesco face scanners

Gay and trans bullying threat from Tesco face scanners

Plans by UK supermarket chain Tesco to deploy new profiling software at petrol station checkouts are being condemned as it could lead to gay and trans bullying today (5 November).

Several members of the LGBTI community have said the new software is dangerous, likely to inspire homophobic bullying and potentially illegal.

Earlier this week, Tesco announced plans to install facial recognition technology that would use customer attributes, such as length of hair and other facial cues.

This would allocate customers into one of six broad categories based on age and gender.

In order to promote their products, an advert tailored to that group would then be popped up on a screen in front of the customer while they were filling their car with gas.

According to a Tesco spokeswoman: ‘No data or images are collected or stored and the system does not use eyeball scanners or facial-recognition technology.’

This may be misleading. Attributes, or data, may not be stored, but they must be collected in order for the software to apply the algorithm it uses to categorize the customer.

Considering the outcome is processed and popped up on a screen where it may be seen by others, the data is being used to personally identify the individuals concerned.

Under the Data Protection Act, apart from some very specific exemptions, processing of data needs to be ‘necessary’ and ‘with consent’.

Conditions for processing where sensitive data is involved – and gender may well be considered highly sensitive – is even stricter.

In a statement, the Office of the Information Commissioner said: ‘As with any new technology, we would expect Tesco to be upfront about how people’s information is being used.

‘The privacy issues which this software might raise are obvious and so it is in the company’s best interests to make sure they are explaining what information is being collected and why.

‘We will be making enquiries with Tesco to find out more about the system and how it complies with the Data Protection Act.’

In a further clarification, they explained that ‘collected’ also includes references to ‘processing’.

Diversity consultant Tara Hewitt said trans individuals face either being outed inadvertently by such software in a situation where others were potentially hostile or misgendering in a way that could be extremely harmful.

She said: ‘Tesco have failed to understand the implications for trans people.

‘There is significant potential for personal humiliation as well as wider distress at the idea that individuals who have spent their lives fighting to be recognized in their gender might have their gender analysed every time they are stood in a queue.

‘In exceptional circumstances, this approach might lead to the danger of violence from others stood nearby.’

Diversity Role Models, an anti-homophobic and transphobic bullying of children organization, echoed this reaction.

Speaking to Gay Star News, a spokesman said: ‘It is not appropriate to target people for advertising without their permission.

‘This could cause many people problems, not least young people who may be struggling with their gender identity or sexual orientation.’

When GSN spoke to Tesco, they blamed it on a ‘technological’ issue. They said all questions should be sent to the software developers Amstrad.

We put a number of questions to Tesco, including:

  • Why is your official Twitter feed telling people the machines are not providing ‘bespoke messages’?
  • What consultations has Tesco had with the Office of the Information Commissioner in respect of whether or not this breaches the Data Protection Act?
  • If a customer does not consent to their data being processed in this way, how can they prevent it happening?
  • What consultations has Tesco had with the transgender community in respect of the possible impact that the use of such technology might have on trans individuals?

Tesco has not yet provided a response.