Encouraged by the government
Since March 2021, the Home Office (A British government department responsible for immigration, security, and law and order, also known as the Home Department) has been inviting ‘tech providers, retailers, bars and restaurants to propose digital methods of checking customers’ ages.’. The Home Office is also the same government department behind e-passports.
One of the digital methods to emerge from the Home Office initiative is Yoti’s artificial intelligence that can estimate a person’s age from processing facial data. Yoti’s age estimation solution has been adopted by NHS (Britain’s National Health Service) and implemented by many other companies.
ALDI is the first of five major supermarkets to implement Yoti’s solution.
On the 18th of January 2022, Aldi opened its first checkout-free store in Greenwich, southeast London, where customers can walk out without queuing to pay for their shopping. ‘High-tech cameras track customers as they shop at the supermarket and then bill them when they leave.
Just one issue. What happens if a customer wants to get some alcohol or another product that requires age verification?
Customers trying to buy alcoholic drinks can do so via a smartphone app using The Aldi Shop&Go app which features age estimation technology from Yoti’
The digital identity platform will ‘assess whether a consenting customer is old enough to buy restricted items by analysing a photo of their face.’
While Aldi trials Yoti’s technology in their self-service terminals between January and May 2022, the company will take pictures of customers’ faces and delete them once the process is completed.
Aldi is one of five major UK supermarkets planning to use Yoti. Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons are among others.
Why do people need to scan their face?
The Yoti website states ‘This is a security measure to verify that you’re a real person. It protects against hackers trying to create fake accounts using an automatic ‘bot’, or disguising themselves by wearing a mask or holding a photo in front of their phone camera…. The face scan also creates your biometric key which protects your account. This is the digital map of your face created to make sure only you can access your details. This is not a photo that will be stored on your account – your biometric key cannot be seen by anyone else’.
Not facial recognition?
While journalists such as Rhiannon Williams write, ‘Yoti’s facial analysis system cannot link a face to an identity and is not the same as facial recognition.’ This seems the opposite of what Yoti has written on their website; their support page claims that their scans of your face can be used to create biometric keys to make accounts that only you can access.
Just age estimation
Aldi, the supermarket giant, is keen to assure people that the AI provided by Yoti will only be used to train the AI to check the age of faces. Customers who do not want to use Aldi’s Shop&Go app will have the alternative of still being ‘able to purchase restricted items with the help of a member of staff.
In the UK, you have to be aged 18 or over to buy alcohol legally. Yoti white paper has claimed there is only a 0.05 percent chance of a 17-year-old passing the age check and being able to buy alcohol.
A move welcomed by The British Retail Consortium (BRC)
Rhiannon Williams, technology correspondent for inews writes ‘ The British Retail Consortium (BRC) has welcomed the trials, explaining that the technology could reduce the number of retail workers abused for refusing to serve underage customers.’
AI facial age estimation is considered more accurate than the human eye and “works fairly for everyone.” It is hoped that this new AI will help diffuse what ‘is often a trigger point for conflict at the till.‘