Goodbye Cashiers. Goodbye Checkouts. Goodbye Privacy?
Imagine going to University in the morning. You haven’t had breakfast, but you missed your train, so there’s no time for that queue at Albert Heijn. Now, imagine how convenient it would be to just run into a grocery store, grab that sandwich, throw it into your bag and run out. It would be ideal. It would also be considered shoplifting.
However, it seems like that ideal is becoming more and more of a reality – and a legal one, that is. This September, Standard Cognition, a start-up set up in 2017, opened San Francisco’s first cashier-less and checkout-less grocery store, Standard Market. At the moment, this is referred to as a ‘demonstration’ store with a still limited range of products. However, with claims of having raised an additional $5.5 million, the start-up is working hard on creating a foolproof product, ready to be taken up by big companies in the retail market (Lynsey).
What is it?
It is simple, you press the check-in button on the app upon entering the store, walk out when you are done, and receive the receipt by email (Visit Standard Market). Like AmazonGo, which opened its first store in January this year, the store’s ceiling is installed entirely with cameras and artificial intelligence software that documents what the shopper is buying – and what they are not – but also monitors their behaviour, including movement, trajectory and gaze:
“The store knows when I glance at a poster and for how long. It knows if I slowed down, grabbed a chocolate bar and put it back. It knows if my body is facing the dried mangoes but my face is set on the popcorn.” (Bowles)
Exemplifying Standard Market, technologyhas shown interest in “monitoring aspects of human lives and rendering them into digital datasets” (Lupton, 1), which includes monitoring how individuals interact with these technologies. Consequently, these interactions translate into information about these individuals, including their habits, their preferences or even social relationships (Lupton, 1-10). Technologies like those used in Standard Market can, for instance, reveal that before buying store-brand ice cream, one didconsider Ben & Jerry’s, simply by its visual tracking observing the individual lingering at the product, holding it or even just glancing at it.
No scanning = scamming?
Other than expression of preferences, the technology pays attention to another behavioural pattern: theft. For instance, it pays attention to whether one’s gaze is set on the exit for a little too long, along with with one’s trajectory and speed. It seems, however, that obtaining such data about shoppers is still something that they are working on, as predicting such behaviour requires data about shoppers that Standard Cognition admits to still lack, or simply “no on one is willing to give” (Bowles, 2018)
In the age of big data, it is not only the collection of data, but also the processing of such which is said to bear concerns. The ‘datafication’ of Standard Market seems to primarily rely on what the interaction with these the store’s items reveals about product preferences, while additionally using the technology to attempt to monitor possible criminal behavior (Mai 192-199). The store claims to merely use the shopper’s behavioral data to understand, through analytics, the product performance, minimize loss-prevention and provide real-time inventory snapshots (Standard Principles). It should not be disregarded, however, that in a general sense privacy concerns have partly emerged because of the ability of organizations to construct new personal information through predictive analytics (Mai 192-199). But precisely how does Standard Cognition collect and useits shopper’s personaldata then?
The topic of data about consumers is where Standard Cognition and its Standard Market somewhat differentiates itself from other already existing automated retail stores, like AmazonGo in the US or Alibaba’s ‘Futuremart’ in China. Upon entering, Alibaba Futuremart shoppers are met by facial recognition technology and a QR code to be scanned using the Alipay app at the gate. When exiting, facial recognition and Radio Frequency Identification technology are utilized to confirm identification and processing the transaction (Alibaba Group). In other words, a tag is attached to the products which transfer data through radio-frequency electromagnetic fields (Qiao, Chen and Li 1-2). AmazonGo, too, utilizes a QR code and app-required entry through a turnstile, however, claims to not make use of any facial recognition (Coldewey). Standard Market involves neither of those processes.
Although the technology appears to be quite similar to that of AmazonGo, it is Standard Cognition’s supposed transparency which makes it distinct in the emerging automation of grocery shopping.Co-Founder and COO, Micheal Suswal, shares that no personal data is stored in the cloud (Lynsey). With this, Suswal refers to, for instance, facial biometrics and other biometrics that could possibly track an individual outside of the store. Additionally, they claim to never give “non-anonymized data to third parties without your consent”, nor do they store security footage for longer than seven days. All they permanentlystore is information about items picked and placed back, but even that can be deleted manually (Standard Principles). With the possibilities of failure in securing information privacy in the cloud, the emphasis placed on their approach to [personal] data collection and storage are a less than subtle, if not necessary, attempt at winning the consumer’s trust. Particularly as the “exact place where data are located [in the cloud] are not always known and it can change in time” (King and Raja 415).
Standard Cognition, through the above described of transparency and supposedly limited [personal] data storage and processing, seems to provide the data subjects, the consumers, with the opportunity to make conscious and autonomous choices about their data, in various aspects (Solove). Although the system and its execution still have room for improvement, including in areas such as theft and system failures, the company has respectable ideas regarding consumer experience and privacy that, perhaps, other companies could take note of.
Alibaba Group. Alibaba Opens Cashierless Store On Campus. 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FGtRXi8eRKI. Accessed 19 Sept 2018.
Bowles, Nellie. “Stealing From A Cashierless Store (Without You, Or The Cameras, Knowing It)”. Nytimes.Com, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/13/technology/standard-market-retail-automation-behavioral-data.html. Accessed 19 Sept 2018.
Coldewey, Devin. “Inside Amazon’S Surveillance-Powered, No-Checkout Convenience Store”. Techcrunch, 2018, https://techcrunch.com/2018/01/21/inside-amazons-surveillance-powered-no-checkout-convenience-store/. Accessed 18 Sept 2018.
King, Nancy J., and V.T. Raja. “What Do They Really Know About Me In The Cloud? A Comparative Law Perspective On Protecting Privacy And Security Of Sensitive Consumer Data”. American Business Law Journal, vol 50, no. 2, 2013, pp. 413-482. Wiley, doi:10.1111/ablj.12012. Accessed 19 Sept 2018.
Lupton, Deborah. “How Do Data Come To Matter? Living And Becoming With Personal Data”. Big Data & Society, vol 5, no. 2, 2018, pp. 1-10. SAGE Publications, doi:10.1177/2053951718786314. Accessed 19 Sept 2018.
Lynsey, Matthew. “Standard Cognition Raises Another $5.5M To Create A Cashier-Less Checkout Experience”. Techcrunch, 2018, https://techcrunch.com/2018/07/17/standard-cognition-raises-another-5-5m-to-create-a-cashier-less-checkout-experience/. Accessed 19 Sept 2018.
Mai, Jens-Erik. “Big Data Privacy: The Datafication Of Personal Information”. The Information Society, vol 32, no. 3, 2016, pp. 192-199. Informa UK Limited, doi:10.1080/01972243.2016.1153010. Accessed 19 Sept 2018.
Qiao, Yan et al. RFID As An Infrastructure. Springer, 2013.
Solove, Daniel J. “Privacy Self-Management And The Consent Dilemma”. Harvard Law Review, vol 126, 2012, Accessed 19 Sept 2018.
Standard Cognition. “Standard Market – Powered By Standard Cognition”. Youtube, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ap7Aq-N552Q. Accessed 17 Sept 2018.
— “Autonomous Checkout, Real Time System v0.21”.Youtube, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yeS8TJwBAFs. Accessed 17 Sept 2018
— “Standard Principles”. Standard.Ai, https://standard.ai/privacy/. Accessed 18 Sept 2018.
—. “Visit Standard Market”. Standard.Ai, https://standard.ai/app. Accessed 18 Sept 2018.