7-Eleven breached privacy laws by gathering data without consent: Australian commission

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An Australian privacy commission determined that 7-Eleven breached customer privacy by collecting facial imagery without consent. 

The convenience store chain has disabled facial recognition technology in 700 of its stores in the country. The commission determined that the company collected up to 3.2 million facial images over a 10 month period. 

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The system worked through tablets handed out to each location as a way to allow customers to fill out feedback surveys. Each tablet had a built-in camera that took photos of customers as they started and completed the surveys, The Guardian reported. 

Photos collected during this process then uploaded to a locally-hosted server, which converted the images to a faceprint that approximated the age and gender of the person. 

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7-Eleven argued that the images "effectively expired" after 24 hours, but it did not specify if they were deleted. The data collection contributed to efforts to better understand the demographic profile of customers, but the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner investigation breached privacy laws and was not reasonably necessary, ZDNet reported. 

Customers in Australia must provide explicit consent for the collection of sensitive information. Angeline Falk, who led the commission, said that 7-Eleven did not provide enough information about how the information would be used or stored, which meant the company received no consent despite noting a disclaimer on its website. 

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"For an individual to be 'identifiable', they do not necessarily need to be identified from the specific information being handled," Falk said. "An individual can be 'identifiable' where it is possible to identify the individual from available information, including, but not limited to, the information in issue." 

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7-Eleven complied with an order to cease the data collection and has been further ordered to destroy all collected "faceprint" data. 

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