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Caught on Video Shoplifting From a Cashierless Store: Is This Traffic Cam 2.0?

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By Lisa M. Schaffer, Esq. on September 18, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A customer walks into a store and only sees merchandise. No cashier. No security cop. And about 30 cameras watching his or her every move, using behavioral data, to decide if that customer will buy, steal, or forego that candy bar.

Cashierless stores are the next brainchild in the marriage between self-automation and artificial intelligence. Amazon has opened a few of its cashierless stores, Amazon Go, earlier this year. These stores use a turnstile that quickly calculates all the products in your basket and automatically charges your credit card.

Standard Cognition is the latest entry, but uses a different model in its cashierless stores, dubbed Standard Market. There's no special turnstile, shelf sensors, RFID or packaging changes. The only thing brick and mortar stores need to do is install a bunch of cameras on the ceiling, which appeals to many smaller businesses. These cameras record when customers pick up an item and will only charge for it if the customer doesn't put it back on a shelf before leaving. It is nearly impossible to steal anything, unlike the turnstile, which can be avoided, as many subway station managers know.

But the AI Will Know If You Tried

The artificial intelligence built into the cameras can predict if someone is going to steal something, based on behavioral data. According to Michael Suswal, the company's co-founder and chief operating officer, "We learn behaviors of what it looks like to leave. If they're going to steal, their gait is larger, and they are looking towards the door." If the program believes a shopper is trying to steal something, it will alert a worker, who is to address the customer and politely ask if they need any help.

There are two distinct legal benefits of this system. The first is it eliminates any racial profiling, since the program is looking at behavior and not skin color. Second, there are no privacy concerns since no biometric data is collected, including facial recognition. All shopper analytics collected for fine-tuning the AI is completely anonymized.

If a Customer Debates a Charge, Have They Already Been Deprived of Due Process?

This system is designed so that cameras will automatically charge shoppers for anything placed in their bag. But what if a customer debates a charge -- that they were charged for an item in their bag that they didn't receive? Are they guilty until proven innocent?

One of the chief complaints of traffic cameras catching red-light runners is a violation of due process, which convicts drivers (or often just the car owner) for a crime without having their day in court to prove their innocence. And in a different, but related issue, what about customers being questioned by a worker that has been told to approach, based on their behavior that they seem to be preparing to steal? Can artificial intelligence really determine, or pre-determine intent?

Legislators and courts will need to figure these issues out as artificial intelligence becomes more mainstream.

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