A Canadian privacy perspective on the commercial use of anonymous video analytics in public settings

In October 2020, Canadian privacy regulators issued their findings and recommendations concerning the collection of video images of mall visitors for the use of Anonymous Video Analytics technology (or “AVA” for short) installed in wayfinding directories—a type of digital display used by visitors to navigate malls—by a prominent commercial property management company (PIPEDA Report of Findings #2020-004).

In essence, regulators concluded that this technology generated and retained visitors’ demographic data, such as their age and gender, as well as their biometric information, a unique numerical representation of facial characteristics that could theoretically be used for facial recognition, without valid consent. This outcome was preceded by a similar decision issued in May 2020 by the Quebec privacy regulator in which it expressed concern regarding the technology’s “low social acceptability”. Without concluding whether AVA technology complied with the provincial privacy legislative framework, the Quebec privacy regulator also questioned the overall “proportionality” of the collection and use of video images via AVA technology for marketing purposes (see Commission d’accès à l’information, Enquête sur l’utilisation de la technologie d’analyse de vidéo anonyme, Dossier 1019951-S, May 15, 2020.).

Following the outcome of these decisions and the ensuing negative media coverage, many organizations in the advertising and retail space feared for the future of AVA technology in Canada. Yet, far from being a foregone conclusion, we have prepared a bulletin which describes a number of practical recommendations that provide a path forward for organizations wishing to use AVA technology in public settings, such as malls, retail outlets, museums and other venues for commercial purposes, including advertising, resource management and statistical purposes.

Read our bulletin on this topic (co-authored with Andy Nagy).

This content has been updated on June 8, 2021 at 15 h 39 min.