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Facial recognition at dispensaries: freaky or necessary?

Casual cannabis users may not be aware of the many advanced technologies that the industry is coming to rely upon. The latest in cannabis news is that there are already companies that utilize facial recognition throughout every step of the process. Today, we are going to take a closer look at the use of facial recognition technology in both medical and recreational dispensaries. Many critics fear that the use of this technology can potentially be used to harm minority customers or be used to harass people purchasing legal cannabis.

This technology is considered a massive breach of privacy by many critics, and typical citizens may also feel uncomfortable with some of the ramifications of any widespread use of facial recognition technology.

Controversial technology with myriad potential uses

Like many other controversial measures, there are strong voices on both sides of the discussion. Proponents for facial recognition cite the fact that the industry is cash-based thus making dispensaries popular targets of theft. Because entry is predicated on looking into a facial scanning camera, it is impossible to obscure one’s face and still gain entry to the dispensary. The same screening process can also be accomplished with a door bouncer or a double-lock vestibule.

Many of the companies that provide the technological devices and other proponents also state that the data captured by the devices is deleted after a set period of time, typically 48 hours. Of course, the shop owner can choose to tag certain individuals and the system will then keep their information until manually deleted. Tagged customers will set out an alert, usually a text or email, that notifies the dispensary employees. The vendor of this technology states that how the dispensary handles the information of a potential threat will vary, but anyone can realize the possibility of the scenario playing out in a very dark way.

Such customers who are considered a “threat” may not be, and their inclusion in any type of alert list may make it impossible for them to visit their local dispensary. Additionally, human behavior can also play a role in how it is determined if a potential customer is a potential threat or not. There are countless ways that such policies can go wrong, and if employees are prejudicial, it can open the dispensary to accusations of discrimination.

A less controversial use is the access control that the technology can provide in areas that are off-limits to customers, such as safe rooms and inventory areas. For this use, facial recognition is used with the RFID tags that are used for cannabis inventory control. The results are rather freaky, as the tech can track the cannabis as it moves from one employee to another and then, ultimately, to the customer. Experts cite the fact that the majority of cannabis thefts are “inside jobs” as the impetus for the development of employee tracking mechanisms. With a robust system, every movement of the employee can be tracked within the dispensary, and those movements can also be matched up with the data from the RFID tags.

Cooperation with law enforcement could be problematic

Dispensaries are also using the technology to check the ages of potential customers. 420 Cyber, a Las Vegas-based firm, has a system called “Badass Budtender”, a kiosk that does the work of checking IDs using their facial recognition software. The same firm is also marketing a system named VASM, or Video Active Security Monitoring. This is another controversial tech advancement that makes many people uncomfortable. Advertised as being able to detect people who are armed, or are likely to commit a crime, there is a lot that can go wrong with its use.

VASM is being marketed as an effective tool for preventing shoplifting, armed robbery, and other mayhem from happening within a dispensary or other types of stores. The monitoring is connected to law enforcement databases and is able to recognize if anyone has outstanding warrants or they are on any type of police department watch list. Much less sinisterly, this system is also able to recognize any celebrities who may enter the store.

There is nothing stopping private businesses, such as dispensaries, from turning over their informational data, including facial images and scans, over to law enforcement. This is the case even in areas where the government is banned from using facial scanning and other machine recognition technology. There are also fears that police with ill-intent can target cannabis users and use the information gleaned from dispensaries to harass law-abiding citizens.

420 Cyber also allows users to personalize their purchasing experience. The facial scans are able to react to expressions and determine how the buyer feels about their purchase. It can then record those reactions and suggest products during future transactions. It can also be used to track the customer’s age, gender, race, and the time of day that they most typically visit the store. This information will be stored and called upon each visit as the software begins to understand the customer’s preferences better, it is thought that the recommendations will continue to improve.

Facial recognition use in medical marijuana dispensaries

The jury is still out on the legality of using facial recognition software in medical marijuana dispensaries. There are many patient advocates who believe that such use constitutes a violation of their HIPPA rights. At first glance, it does not seem right to allow patients to have to submit to facial scanning in order to purchase MMJ.

This is a thorny topic and one that is giving many people inside the industry pause.

Cybersecurity and data breach concerns

In addition to the profiling that can occur with this technology, there is also the issue of data breaches. The cannabis industry has already been targeted for hacking schemes. Consider a scenario where all of your demographic information is stolen, along with images of your face. It’s a chilling thing to consider.

Data breaches that include a facial scan and other identifying information can easily lead to the sale of such information and images that can cause serious repercussions for the hacking victim. The vendors of the facial recognition software systems do not have much of a response when presented with these very real concerns.

Advocates suggest that the industry proceed with extreme caution

Many advocates for privacy and social justice believe that before the cannabis industry begins to rely on technology such as this, that it meets with local community activists to learn more about the unintended consequences that could arise. It is ironic that law enforcement-adjacent firms that are developing this technology have gone from arresting and imprisoning cannabis users to now making money off of offering “protection” to these same users.

There are a lot of disconcerting issues at play here, from privacy and cybersecurity risks to using the technology for profiling or other nefarious activities. There is no significant data available yet regarding the effectiveness of this technology in preventing theft and other crimes in dispensaries. Whether the loss of privacy for increased safety is worth the trade is a discussion that will likely continue for many years to come.

The cannabis industry is encouraged to consider all of the possible outcomes of adopting this technology before doing so on a large-scale basis.

The post Facial recognition at dispensaries: freaky or necessary? appeared first on Marijuana Experts.

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