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Podcast: The New York City war against facial recognition software

New York wants to ban the use of the software, but grocers are fighting back, saying it’s an issue of theft prevention


Retail theft is on the rise across the country, and grocers are doing all they can to neutralize the threat.

However, in New York City, politicians are working to take away an important tool which grocers say deters crime — facial recognition software.

The New York City Council is currently considering a measure that would make it illegal to use facial recognition software within city limits. Grocers are fighting the move, saying that if the legislation becomes law, they will have to go back to taping up photos of repeat offenders near cash registers in the hopes a worker recognizes them when they enter the store.

Grocers say they also believe the rise in crime is putting their own workers in the line of fire. Many retailers depend on employees to either stop theft before it happens or get in the way of it while it is going on in the store. Some have used store design to prevent crime, like a Walgreens in Chicago that put most of its merchandise behind the counter. A Safeway just outside of San Francisco recently added security gates.

Avi Kaner is the co-owner of the Morton Williams supermarket chain in Manhattan. Kaner said he feels that small businesses cannot combat theft effectively without tools including facial recognition, adding that he personally  hired off-duty New York police officers for the chains’ 16 locations, costing him over $1 million to curb shoplifting.

Supermarket News Senior Editor Bill Wilson caught up with Kaner and talked about the challenges he faces and his concerns around the potential loss of the software. 

In this episode you will learn:

  • The current efforts in the city to ban facial recognition technology
  • Why some New York grocers are concerned about the potential loss of the tech 
  • How the Morton Williams supermarket chain currently deals with theft

Take a listen.

Have a pitch for the podcast? Reach out at [email protected]. And thanks for listening.

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