Is your mall watching you?
The big story is brought to you by Scotiabank. If you go out in public, you're used to the idea that you're being recorded or photographed at some point. Between security cameras strangers with smartphones. And other devices your sumptious of privacy and public has probably vanished in recent years. But there's a difference between a security camera and facial recognition software, and there's a difference between a smartphone held up in clear view and camera concealed in a tiny opening in a wall or a kiosk. And if they warned you about them that might be one thing, but what's happening at malls around Canada is quite another thing altogether. So what are anonymous video analytics what rules govern their use? Are there any options if you'd rather not take part? Do you have any rights here? I'm Jordan heath Rawlings. And this is the big story. Welcome to our one hundred episode. If you've been with us since the beginning, thank you so much if you just joined us there are a ton of great episodes in our back catalog, and there's nobody that we'd rather welcome to the one hundred episode of the big story, then our most frequent guest the man with the weirdest. Most interesting stories in Canada, guess who's back. I'm playing Aaron Hutchins returns for the seventh time this is the game. This is the game compressive. How many more till I get a free subway sandwich. You get free coffee after you're gonna free coffee now. Sweet. Here we go. Tell me how we found out about malls watching us. It was actually just I guess a stroke of luck or bad luck. You could save for for Cadillac Fairview. There was a mall in Alberta where you know, those those directories and it used to look like just a plain piece of paper that had a little dot says you are here, and you'd have to kind of figure out where you are. And where your shoe store is right? And it's broken down into like shoes or clothes or and it wasn't a very of the new ones. If you go to malls nowadays, the new ones have it's very interactive like an ipad. You know, your tap on it, and you point to shoes or clothes or books or whatnot. And there was a mall, and I'll Berta where the screen was broken. And all you had was basically just a square box that had all like, the file things typed out. And it said they shall analysis in gender and age, and it was just of in with back slashes, a savvy mall goer staffed a picture of it. And put it up on read it saying what's this all about right quickly? People said, hey, this is are they? Looking into are. They analyzing our like facial recognition here and pretty soon. The media local media picked up on it in the national media to the point where Cadillac Fairview said we're doing this. We're going to suspend that. Now that there's a an investigation that that's open into it who opened the investigation. Currently there's there's two investigations open. I believe there's one from the provincial privacy, investigate privacy commission and one from the federal privacy commission happening right now, what does the mall or any mall? Typically, tell you about surveillance because all malls have cameras. Right, right. I mean when you walk into a mall, it's kind of established. Now, you'll see the we have TV cameras to that are there for security, which I think people understand if someone gets a robbing or heaven forbid, a shooting or something the police want some sort of cameras to kind of look into what happened. And I think people understand that. I think what there is no sign of at least from all the malls, I've gone to and all the mall gentleman whose eyesight. Poke to is that there's no sign anywhere. That says by the way, we have different cameras that are specifically looking at your face to find out. How old you are? What's your gender even things like if you're in a good mood or a bad mood, if you're happy or sad? So when you go to these these mall directories, and you're looking at the screen, and you're pointing out I want to go to this bookstore, and then this shoe store, and you're looking at which directions to go, you don't believe in notice it because if the if the directory is black if you look on the side somewhere on the frame, there's just a small small very faint block, circle if it's a white directory than is play a white circle. But it's very very hidden. It's very subtle. And what is doing is is just looking at you to see take snapshot of who you are. So what does facial recognition technology do? Well, basically, it looks at the your face kinda looks at the contours of it. And from however, the technology works determines based on your facial shape or whatnot. If you're a man or woman, and there's no reason why couldn't do your your race. Or you know, you're St. either. Yeah. Some of the companies that run this technology. I spoke to at least one says, we don't do ethnic recognition because we think that could be used for the people that'd be prejudicial like we don't like that idea being used. So they said we outright refused to do it. So this all sounds tinged with dystopia, it's a little creepy. What kind of framework is in place for this? Like who draws that line that you mentioned kind of well, you can do age and sex and at cetera but racist too far. There's there's a lot a grey zone here. And it's quite complicated. Because the malls the ones who owns the directory the companies who use this make the software. They've told me that they don't know that Jordan you're going to the mall. You were here at ten fifty. And you clicked on you want to go to EIB games. You wanted to go and buy Nintendo like they don't know these things about you per se. What these as they have something called anonymous visual analytics, okay, which the reason that they claim this is different from facial recognition. Is that if you're one side of the ball, and then you end up the other side of the mall. It won't recognize who you are because it will take that. Snapshot view, your age, your your mood, your gender, and it will take that information and put into meta data, and delete it right away. So that information just gets fed into some massive database, but it doesn't know that. It's you. So if you walk in from that same screen twenty times, it doesn't know that. It's you particularly, okay. If you go to a different camera on the other side of the mall. They don't know that you've traveled from point eight point beat. They're just collecting every tenth of a second. Every nanosecond they are collecting a snapshot of who was there and feeding that into the data and they're not keeping photos. That's what they say. Yes. How do we know while there's a privacy of education going on? So what is also it's against the law to keep the photo. Okay. So it's not against the law to take them. That's correct. So here's where it gets kind of kind of messy. So there's a a law called Pippa. It's the personal information protection and electric documents act so pepitas what it's called and basically. It's it's against Pippa to collect use or disclose personal information without first getting the individual's consent. You say yes, you can have my picture. Yes. I've checked the box. They can't collect this. You know, these photos of you and keep them what the companies maintain is because they are just taking the picture feeding into the data and leading it right away. Like for just a nanosecond. They aren't going contrary to Pippa because it's all deleted within the stamp of fingers. But you have this kind of interesting conversation of if something is exists in memory for just a nanosecond. And it's immediately discarded was it collected. Now, critics or I guess privacy was collect. Well, they did they did have it in their possession. Even for you know, one one hundred the second. That's exactly what privacy experts are saying they say because you had it you had it for a long enough time, you collected it you used it. And you brought it to feed this algorithm that you are creating so whether you had it for a nanosecond or a week you had. In collected it for a moment that is what privacy experts people who are critical of this facial recognition technology, malls are telling me if you have it you had it for a second because you couldn't have fed your a did you fed your data without that picture existing that seems so simple to me. So what's the argument against it? Well, it's gone like they lead right away. So they have not collected. Because by the time, you even notice it that picture is gone. It is constantly being deleted the photo. So the malls are saying because the photos are constantly in deleted. They don't need your permission. Because even if you walk by a camera by the time, you would notice it your pictures already deleted anyway. So it's not as though they need your permission because there's nothing to give out and it's gone. Up next. If this information exists in a nanosecond, the privacy experts. I spoke with the biggest problem is identity. You can save like never before with these Scotiabank momentum plus savings account. And now for a limited time, you can earn up to three point two percent interest until March tenth you can find all the terms and conditions at Scotiabank dot com slash m p. So I understand the benefits to the mall of having this data to your point you can analyze what particular times of day. Certain kind of person is coming in and cater your maybe your store, selection or promos to that. Who else gets this information? Do we know what happens with all the data? They're collecting other than the company that owns the mall using it to make decisions. Right. So the company that has the facial recognition software, obviously has the data. The company that owns the mall or owns the the cameras, obviously has it. And then that muddy data one can only presume would be used as it would for any. You know, telecommunications company or whatnot? You have if you know your target audience. If the the big story knows it's target audiences. All people who are twenty to thirty for. However, you would do that you would say, hey, advertisers. This is who's listening to our podcast same with the mall. They'd say, hey, all our mall goers at eight in the morning till eleven the morning. Our senior citizens going for their morning walk that might be your target audience at six. O'clock. It's all people in their twenties to thirties and with the screening might change your advertising based on that. So what it would do is it would better inform the mall and the advertisers of who their target audiences to better help the customers with their advertising or marketing experience. Are there any rules around what they can do with this data? For instance, if I was a store thinking about opening a location in a mall, can I just ask them for it? Can I say, hey, I want to know who your customers are before I decide whether or not to get into this mall. And then once that store has the data what's stopping that store from sharing with the rest of its company. Now's a very good question. And these are the things we're if we don't know the answer to it because it's not out in the open. Then there is a problem and of their major problems is that people don't even know this is happening in the first place. This all came to light because of a glitch at a mall, right? That didn't happen. It's very possible. No, one would even know anything about this. And while malls are very open to the point that they have. See TV cameras around. They'll say it. They are very very shy to say that they have facial recognition or anonymous official analytics technology happening. They just don't say it. And I've asked mall owners say won't you just have signed it to say as much and some of them said well nuts, a something we should look into or others just said, what would we we're not required to because we're not collecting their information since the being deleted. But no one actually has signing there. There's a privacy lawyer who was says something that I think is actually kind of at the at the hardest story at least for me when it comes to like this facial recognition technology or anything kind of similar. He said if you can't look customer in the eye and explain to them what you're doing. Then maybe you shouldn't be doing it. Because if it's for the benefit of the customer in the end for marketing, then presumably they wouldn't mind this happening and people are used to people click on when you get emails or whatnot. You want your Email address handed out to get better deals, or I access to whatever people are handing out their information. All the time people are comfortable with it. Now. This sense addition is yes. The next level. But there is no reason why a company should not have signed saying, by the way. Here's our director camera. We are using anonymous visual analytics to better serve you for XYZ. When you think about where facial recognition is going. It's now opening our phones. It is. Right. It's it's not far away from turning into passwords for us. Whether it be for who knows it's not crazy to think that'll be helping us get into our condo buildings are facial recognition. Right. And if this information exists in an ano second the privacy experts. I spoke with the biggest problem is identity theft. Yeah. And I spoke with an Cavoukian who is one of the experts not only in Canada in the world on this. She's dealt with too many people that have had their identity stolen, and she says, it is such a pain to have to prove who you are one stuff when your identity is stolen and people are making purchase on your path. Imagine if someone has your facial recognition somehow got hacked or who knows what? And they have that information. Imagine what a paint it would be to prove. Hey that wasn't me. So all these things. We're describing just to be clear, which sound creepy and. Yeah. And might freak some people out or maybe people assume that they're already just being recorded. But all of these things that sound kind of shady. None of it is none of it. Is that right? A legal. None of it is is regulated the privacy Commissioner's office doesn't have order making power. So if they came down at it's worst could say, hey, by the way, Cadillac Fairview, or whatever mall. What you're doing is wrong. Here's what our recommendations are to fix this practice. The company could say thank you very much for your input. We will take this to consideration. Appreciate your time. And they may not change anything the federal privacy Commissioner cannot say, hey, this is wrong. Do this. If not you're gonna get fined I'm going to order you to do this. They don't have that power. It's so weird to me that there's no teeth behind any other regulations around this in Canada. Is there a place that's actually kind of developed some regulation. One thing that was recently implemented in the European Union is called the general data protection regulation. What this new privacy legislation? Does. Does is it incorporates something called privacy by design and also called privacy by default? So what that means is when there is a new technology or new service. The most private version is the default. So there's a new brand new Twitter right in the European Union. And it wants to track your location, your whatever it has to get you to opt in because the default is the strictest privacy setting. You don't have to go in through a million settings and change and change everything to I want this off I want that off the way I do every two months on Facebook. Exactly. So this way is kind of set up to do it like that that is something that a lot of advocates are lobbying force here. Because that way it would get a lot of the grey zone saying, well, we don't have to do this. We had the opt in we have information here, or there this way, the default is the strictest would that solve the mole map problem in Canada? Maybe because some of these companies are still using it in France and England, and if they are deleting it right away, they might say that there they could. Still say the same thing we're not collecting information because we're deleting it right away. But the most important thing I would say is that customers are aware that it's happening. So they can decide for themselves whether they feel this is an invasion of privacy, or whether this is something that they feel is mutually beneficial. In today's age of technology and surveillance. Do you care if your face is being recorded if it's being deleted a nanosecond later. Would you stop go? Let's say they said, we're going to do it to everybody, and we don't have to tell you what you stop going to malls. I might change my shopping shopping habits. It's weird to say that because I mean, I shop on Amazon, and I know they probably try know. But I know everything about me, and I have a Google home in my know your address, and they know exactly know, everything about me. You know, what your voice sounds like I got a gift card recently for for a shoe store, and I had to go to a mall to to get it and some all that's owned by Oxford properties. And I've talked to them they use an anonymous visual analytics as well. And I found myself standing in front of directory looking at this tiny little virtually hidden camera. And I put my hand over the. Information. I know thirty got my face. But I'm just putting my hand over the camera out of some sort of weird weird fightback of thing because it is kind of creepy because CCTV cameras, I know are there, and I know what they're used for. And I know that information's not being collected. But these ones here looking right at my face, it definitely creeps me out a bit. And the thing also on top of this is if this technology is combined with other technologies, it gets even creepy or you have GPS on your phone. Your phone is always tripping at little signals to try and connect to WI fi GPS always knows where you are. If that technology were ever combined with the Fisher recognition, they would know that I'm standing in front of the mall, and I clicked on the shoe store, and that could technically you the cell phone cra- cellphone wifi signal and see that I'm actually walking to the store. Did I go there did actually stand in front of the cashier where I presumably made a purchase one one privacy expert talked a talk to she went over. Yeah. They could have your face. Combine that with the phone at knows where you're walking combine that with the credit card statement the front it would know whether you made a purchase or not. And she looked at me. And she goes this is not some tin hat feary. This is possible now, and it could be happening. But no one knows if it's not because no one is open about what they're collecting and who they're sharing with that's disturbing. But I also wonder how many people cared that much, and I don't say that lightly because having this conversation it's clear that like it freaks enough people out there willing to complain to the privacy Commissioner and try to get things changed. But I think about all the ways to your point are earned for mation is already collected through your smartphone through your smart speaker through your smart, TV or whatever other devices, you have around in your GPS on your phone, and I feel like every once in a while we hear about some new way our data's being collected. And people talk about it for five minutes. And then we kind of assume that this is the price we pay for technology, and we go back to doing it. Anyway, like. I'm not sure that there would be a mass exodus of people using malls. I'm not sure there would be either. But that's just a I think people should have the choice to know that these things are being collected in any mall. The malls of chose not to share this information and the software companies have chosen not to share this information for a reason, I would maintain that it should be open and honest that make a choice if the mall as collecting your face, and you're looking using that to better their stores and better their outlook. Then you might want to go there if it were as you out and mobias, we don't do any of this. You might be more like them all, but the idea is at least, you know, what is happening to you and your most private data, which is your face. And even if you say, I don't care the second that heaven forbid, someone steals, your identity and your face all of a sudden, you care, very, very deeply as rare as that may be if it happens to you, or if you know someone who's had it happened to them, you will know that it turns into a long long tunnel of trying to prove who you are and dealing with all the payment costs and. What you purchase what you didn't purchase. It's a massive pain. So you don't care now. If you're one of the people who has their face, essentially, stolen and used for passwords or for shopping on other countries or other malls or online, then you start carrying pretty quickly. Aaron Hutchings of Maclean's. You know, he'll be back. That was the big story. Brought to you by Scotiabank. You can earn up to three point two percent interest until March tenth with the Scotiabank momentum, plus savings account conditions apply for more from us at the big story. You can find us at the big story, podcast dot CA. There are ninety nine other episodes just waiting for you there and a contact us form. So you can tell us what should be number one on one. You can also find us on social media at big story podcast on Twitter on Facebook on Instagram. And of course, we are wherever you get podcasts on Google on apple on Stitcher on Spotify on pocket casts. I don't know. But if you open your phone and search for a podcast app, and you downloaded and search the big story, we will probably be there. And then you can write us in review us and tell your friends, thanks for listening. I'm Jordan heath Rawlings. We'll talk tomorrow.