Nikhil Pahwa, an internet activist and founder of Indian media watchdog MediaNama, posted a video on Twitter last week showing the facial recognition in a Chaayos store in Delhi. It led other social media users to voice their own concerns over the technology’s use.
“The scan began on its own. I had to tell the cashier I’m not interested in this, and he switched to a screen that asked for a phone number input. I declined that too,” Pahwa said, adding that he is concerned that the data is being collected without “proper consent.”
“Systems like this that collect such personal and sensitive data, it normalizes it, and I’m really worried about that normalization,” he explained.
Chaayos responded on Facebook, stating that it started its facial recognition feature to “reduce the overall customer purchase time.” The company said the technology is still in the testing stage.
“At Chaayos, we are extremely conscious of our customer’s data security and privacy and are committed to protecting it,” the company wrote in the statement. “Data from the facial recognition feature is encrypted and cannot be accessed by any party, including Chaayos itself except for the purpose of logging-in to our customers. There is no third-party sharing of the data for any purpose. And Chaayos does not use or process this information for any other purpose. Moreover, customers have the right to not opt-in for facial recognition feature and instead use their phone number to enjoy the benefits of our loyalty program. Even providing phone number is not mandatory to enjoy a cup of chai or other products at Chaayos.”
But as CNN pointed out, the terms and conditions of the chain’s loyalty program explain that customers “should not expect … personal information should always remain private.”