November 25, 2019

Tea-café Chain Chaayos sparks wrath among consumers over facial recognition ‘without customer consent’

[ By Kavita Krishnan ]


Chaayos, the multi-city chain of food and beverages, is under fire on social media for employing facial recognition, allegedly without customer consent.

Chaayos has augmented its one-time-password (OTP) method by deploying a facial recognition feature to fulfill orders from customers eliminating the need for returning customers of the chain to enter OTPs for each order.

The company doesn’t first explicitly seek the consent of customers before capturing their facial data. The terms and conditions page on the Chaayos website also suggests that the company could share the facial data – alongside phone number and other details of its customers – with third parties.

For quite a long time, Chaayos required customers to place an order at its kiosks by first registering their name and phone number on a tablet at the sales counter, and then entering the OTP they received on their mobile number. Recently, the company has upgraded and replaced that system with facial recognition for identifying returning customers.

The new feature works through the tablets that have a front-facing camera to capture the individual’s (customer’s) facial features. For first time users, these tablets take the customer’s selfie and ask for the customer’s credentials such as name, mobile number, and OTP to proceed with their order. The next time the customer visits the chain and places an order, the system is claimed by the company to identify the customer, thereby eliminating the need for the individual to enter his/her name, mobile number, and OTP.

The chain’s use of the technology was reported when it made its Bengaluru debut this month, but it became a subject of controversy after Twitter users posted about it in the context of privacy.

According to a digital rights group, while the technology is marketed as a convenience, the lack of legislative safeguards to protect against the misuse of data can lead to “breaches of privacy, misidentification and even profiling of individuals and till the time India introduced a comprehensive data protection law that provides such guarantees, there needs to be an embargo on any technology that would violate an individual’s right to privacy.

According to the company, the facial recognition technology was introduced to speed up orders for regular customers and as an option to eliminate the hassles of OTPs.

Delhi-based Sunshine Teahouse – owner of Chaayos has stated that although the company is committed to protecting customer’s privacy, the company does not promise or guarantee protection of customer’s privacy, and that customers should not expect that their personal information should always remain private.

According to digital rights experts, it could breach privacy and may potentially lead to increased surveillance.

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