With the collection of biometric data becoming a business norm, security experts stress a line needs to be drawn.

By Joe McDonough

Posted on January 6, 2018

Cafes throughout Australia are now using facial recognition technology to improve their customer service, however there are concerns over the accessibility of data and consumer protection.

The system known as NoahFace, was created for Bahista Café231 in Sydney to enable the owner Geoff Cropley to remember his customers’ names.

As customers order their favourite beverage, their photos are taken and added to the database with their first name and order. The next visit, the iPad scans their face and brings up their profile.

Ten cafes have now adopted software developer John MacLean’s technology, and while he stresses the data being gathered is limited, he also refuses to dismiss the prospect of on-selling the information.

“We’re only capturing their first name – so it’s not like we’re capturing their telephone number or their bank details or anything too sensitive,” Mr MacLean told SBS News.

“It might be the sort of information that might be interesting to suppliers to the cafe market I guess.”

It might be the sort of information that might be interesting to suppliers to the cafe market I guess.

It is this information gathering that concerns Stephen Blanks of the NSW Council of Civil Liberties.

He warns that technology advancement is outpacing regulation, meaning consumers can be left unprotected.

“People have to understand that the data which is collected this way has potentially multiple and very valuable uses to the collector,” he said.

With facial recognition increasingly becoming a part of daily life, Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s cybersecurity expert Tom Uren says measures have to be taken to maintain a level of privacy.

“If it was all people all the time being identified and tracked, that’s super creepy, and I don’t think people would be happy. So it’s about where we draw the line,” he said.

The man behind the concept, Mr Cropley, told the Sydney Morning Herald, the customers still have freedom of choice.

“We have a large sign at the point of sale which says we may record their biometric data for customer service and if they don’t want to be part tell us and we won’t put them in,” he said.

“Customers overwhelmingly love it,” he added. “They say they come to the cafe because it is so personal.”

The technology has been a worthwhile investment for Mr Cropley too, with business improving by 37% since its launch.

NoahFace has already attracted more than $1 million in seed funding, and on top of coffee houses such as Bar Bellaccino in Sydney and Coffee Roasters in Brisbane utilising the technology, Canberra Airport has also signed on.

“The benefits of automatic, individual identification of people via facial recognition can apply to almost any business scenario,” Mr Cropley said.