Facial recognition tech to verify age for alcohol sales in UK supermarkets: report

The technology is touted as a means to cut down staff intervention at self-checkouts.

UK supermarkets are reportedly going to adopt facial recognition technology at self-checkouts to verify the age of customers buying products.

The pilot scheme will be rolled out in checkout areas in which customers serve themselves by the end of the year. Should the scheme be a success, the technology could be more widely adopted in 2019, as reported by The Telegraph.

NCR is an American company which develops point-of-sale (PoS) systems for organizations worldwide. Customers include Tesco, Asda, and other supermarkets across the United Kingdom and beyond.

In the UK, self-checkout machines provided by NCR will integrate facial recognition technology through a camera. When a customer attempts to purchase an age-restricted product such as alcohol, the camera will scan their face and estimate their age.

Cigarette purchases could also, in theory, be included, but this would require changes to UK government requirements that keep cigarettes behind the counter and obscured from view by way of panels.

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The idea behind the trial is to find a way to reduce the required footfall of employees that need to manually verify the purchase of restricted items at self-checkout tills.

This can be frustrating for customers waiting to finish their purchases, but for businesses, this may allow supermarkets to reduce the numbers of staff required to monitor self-checkout systems if age verification proves to be a success.

The pilot program is launching through a partnership between NCR and identity services platform Yoti, which developed the camera-based facial recognition software.

The company says that image data is not stored or held after a purchase is made.

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While it has not been revealed which supermarkets, and where, will be trialing the system, according to the publication, two out of Yoti's four supermarket customers -- Tesco, Sainsbury's, Morrisons and Asda -- will be involved.

Sainsbury's told The Telegraph that the company will not be involved in the trial. Morrisons told ZDNet that there are no plans to introduce such technology at this time.

Tesco and Asda have not commented at the time of writing.

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Speaking to sources close to the matter, there was general bemusement at the report and suggestions were made that Yoti may be "overplaying" their hand.

One source told ZDNet that such technology is an interesting concept and one to be watched, but introducing facial recognition software at self-checkout tills would be something we wouldn't see until "way into the future."

A Yoti spokesperson told ZDNet:

"We are unable to comment on partner news today, but expect to see the technology with major retailers soon."

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