UK Retail Is Flooded With Facial Recognition, Digital ID Trials

By Didi Rankovic

What some might see as UK authorities’ “age verification fixation” continues, this time with pilots whose purported goal is, as ever, a noble one – make sure alcohol is not sold to minors in stores or hospitality venues.

But – as ever – there’s quite a bit of “surveillance state-creation hazard” in the entire scheme once you scratch the surface, particularly since this one goes as far as to utilize biometrics, among other tech, to achieve the said goal.

The trials were organized at various points during 2022 in a number of cities in England, including Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, and Nottingham, where Trent University teamed up with local bars to monitor students buying alcoholic beverages.

The public got a chance to learn more about the whole thing late last year when the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) released the results of the Home Office sandbox trials that involved two methods – digital ID apps, and self-scan checkouts.

The findings cover results from digital ID app 1account, supermarket chain Asda – which used facial scan tech self-service checkouts, as did Co-op, and Innovative Technology (with its ICU age verification method), as well as Fujitsu, which developed an app, the same as MBJ Technology.

Morrisons, another supermarket chain, participated by trialing facial scan technology developed by Yoti, and Tesco and Spinningfields and Oxford Road stores turned to the same “digital identity company” and its “AI” algorithm in order to participate in the trials.

Finger vein biometrics were at play when FinGo deployed its tech at Manchester’s Hatch, which brings together retailers, breweries, restaurants, etc.

And the outcome of the trials? Inconclusive, according to reports delving into each participant’s findings. Things like lighting conditions, wi-fi signal or phone battery strength caused the results to “vary widely.”

Be that as it may, Yoti posted on its site that the supermarkets were supportive of the idea of using biometrics as a way to verify shoppers’ age – as well as for actual legislation that would lead to its adoption (probably the core goal of the entire exercise).

Yoti is optimistic all round. According to the blog post, the retail chains liked it, the customers liked it, and would be glad to have their faces scanned and biometric data given up again at supermarket checkouts.

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