Civil liberties group accuses Southern Co-op facial recognition of violating customer privacy

Occurred: July 2022

UK retail chain Southern Co-op was accused by a prominent civil liberties group of violating the privacy of its customers through its use of facial recognition.

Big Brother Watch (BBW) filed a legal complaint with the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) alleging the Southern Co-op and its facial recognition system provider Facewatch processed more data than necessary for generating and storing watchlist entries, and that the two entities lacked transparency about how they collected and processed people’s data.

Despite Southern Co-op stating that 'distinctive signage' is on display in the relevant stores, rights groups argued the chain failed to inform customers sufficiently clearly nor made a meaningful general public announcement before the trials started.

BBW also argued that individuals were not informed when they were added to the Co-op and Facewatch's databases, despite the chance they could be innocent

It went to accuse Southern Co-op of providing little visible information on what data is stored, how it is stored, the length of storage, and with whom it may be shared, including the police, and not making clear how individuals can have appeal against having their data stored.

➕ March 2023. The ICO concluded that Facewatch has a legitimate interest in using personal data for crime detection and prevention, but expressed concerns about some of its practices. Facewatch responded by making improvements, includin reducing the amount of personal data collected.

➕ June 2024. An innocent shopper at retail chain Home Bargains was wrongfully accused of theft due to a Facewatch error, prompting public controversy and a legal complaint.

Operator: Southern Co-op
Developer: Facewatch
Country: UK
Sector: Retail
Purpose: Identify criminals
Technology: Facial recognition
Issue: Privacy
Transparency: Governance

Regulation ⚖️