Convenience Chain Adds Facial Recognition at More Portland Stores

RedTail Exclusive: Jacksons Food Stores expands facial recognition use to even more locations in Portland and Tacoma

What you’ll learn in this article:

  • Convenience retail chain Jacksons Food Stores now requires approval by facial recognition to enter two additional stores in Portland, Oregon and has plans to add the technology at another Tacoma, Washington store.
  • The use of facial recognition by private entities such as retailers is expected to be addressed at a Portland City Council work session on Tuesday. (Update: Read about that here.)
  • Portland is weighing a ban on both government and private use of the technology.

A convenience store chain in Portland, Oregon has added two locations to its expanding roster of stores that require approval by facial recognition software to gain entry. Idaho company Jacksons Food Stores says the technology improves customer and employee safety. Portland lawmakers and advocacy groups meeting Tuesday to discuss the city’s potential ban on government and private use of the controversial technology may see it differently.

jacksons_notification“It has been received very positively by our customers and employees since it has been introduced as an added safety measure,” said company spokesperson Russ Stoddard on Monday.

Today there are four Jacksons locations, three in Portland and one in Tacoma, Washington, where Blue Line Technology’s facial recognition software is employed. Stoddard said implementation is planned at a fifth store in Tacoma.

The topic of facial recognition use by private entities such as retailers, apartment complexes or office buildings is expected to come up during a Portland City Council work session addressing a potential ban on the technology. Along with city commissioners, groups including Oregon ACLU, Urban League, Portland Police Bureau and Technology Association of Oregon are scheduled to present opinions on the biometric identification tech.

View Jacksons Food Stores Locations Using Facial Recognition in Portland and Tacoma

Use of Blue Line software in a store in SE Portland was first reported in June by local NBC affiliate KGW8. It was first implemented there in November 2018. And by September 2019, the company said it was using Blue Line’s tech at store entryways at two locations, the one at 621 SE Grand Avenue in Portland and another at 3740 Pacific Avenue in Tacoma.

The two new Portland locations using Blue Line software are both in the Northeast part of the city, within six blocks from one another at 15 and 519 NE Broadway. The additional Tacoma location where the technology will be implemented is at 10716 Pacific Avenue S., about a fifteen-minute drive south from the other Pacific Ave store.

Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty told RedTail in October she was “appalled” by the use of facial recognition tech in the Jacksons store on SE Grand Avenue. She has been a proponent of a ban on both government and private use of facial recognition in the city, and has suggested private violators might be slapped with financial penalties.

When potential customers approach entrances at the Jacksons stores, they’re greeted with a sign near a facial recognition camera that reads, “Please look here to shop at Jacksons.” A red indicator means the “door will remain locked,” while green signals “please come in.”

Facial recognition tech has been used by private entities such as retailers and by governments such as by law enforcement to identify possible criminals or to detect intruders at public schools. In both private and public use, proponents often say they believe the technology will create a more safe or secure environment. Jacksons says it uses the technology for safety and theft prevention.

“We’ve found it to be a remarkable deterrent since we’ve installed it at the Grand Avenue store,” Stoddard told this reporter in September for a GeekWire story. While he would not reveal any data related to crime at Jacksons stores, he added, “on the qualitative side, customers and employees have both responded favorably to the change and report that they feel safer shopping and working at the two stores.”

But a variety of research shows facial recognition algorithms don’t work as well on dark-skinned faces as on light-skinned ones. A recent study of facial recognition algorithms from the National Institutes of Standards and Technology showed that false positive rates – or results that incorrectly identify people – were highest for American Indians when compared to other groups, and “elevated” for African Americans and Asians.

Despite concerns regarding discriminatory results of facial recognition, some believe banning the technology could risk public safety. An opinion column published by The Oregonian from Washington, D.C.-based Information Technology and Innovation Foundation argued, “One of the top benefits of facial recognition technology is improved public safety.”

Some of the group’s board members are government lobbyists from Amazon, Microsoft and other facial recognition developers that would benefit from proliferation of the technology.

Stoddard in the Geekwire story said Blue Line’s cameras capture images of people trying to enter Jacksons stores. If they are matched to images of a select group of individuals’ deemed unworthy by Jacksons to shop there, the system keeps the door locked. The door is unlocked for people who are not matched against that group of alleged wrongdoers. It is unclear how Jacksons determines its list of unwelcome customers.

Except in cases when someone steals or commits some other violation, the image data gathered by the Blue Line software is stored in a database for 48 hours then purged. Stoddard said it is not accessible online or stored on third party servers.

As for the future of facial recognition at Jacksons stores, Stoddard said the company will follow any new regulations or laws enacted by the city.

“We’re aware of and are tracking the Portland City Council’s consideration of this ordinance and will, of course, abide by whatever decision it makes.”


About Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye is a journalist who tells deeply-reported stories with words and sound. Her work has been published in Protocol, MIT Technology Review, CityLab, OneZero, Fast Company, and many other outlets, and it’s been heard on NPR, American Public Media’s Marketplace and other radio programs and podcasts. Kate has been interviewed about her work across the media spectrum from Fox’s Stossel show to Slate and NPR’s Weekend Edition. Follow Kate Kaye on Twitter:

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