7-Eleven customer survey: do privacy policy terms equal consent?

In 2020 the 7-Eleven Stores Pty Ltd ACN 005 299 427 (7-Eleven) chain launched a customer feedback mechanism nationwide which prompted customers to complete a voluntary survey about their experience in store on a tablet device.  When a customer completed the survey, a digital image was taken of the customer which was shared with two (2) Application Programming Interfaces (API) to assess and record certain information about the customer.

On 29 September 2021 the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) recently declared that 7-Eleven breached Australian Privacy Principles with these actions.[1]

Background to the OAIC’s investigation[1]

7-Eleven is considered an ‘APP’ entity under section 6 of the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) (Act).  In mid-2020 7-Eleven launched a customer survey mechanism across more than 700 stores throughout Australia, allowing customers to contribute voluntary feedback about their in-store experience.  The survey was supplied by a third party (Supplier) and was delivered on tablet devices, often located at the store counter.  Each time a survey was being completed, the tablet took images of the customer’s face using the built-in camera, and these images were uploaded to a secure server (Server).

The images were stored on the tablet for approximately twenty (20) seconds before being uploaded to the Server.  After seven (7) days, the images were deleted from the Server, however the Supplier used the first of two (2) APIs to convert each of the images into an encrypted algorithmic representation (Faceprint). The Faceprints were stored for an indefinite period of time on the server.

The Faceprint was used to identify information about the approximate gender and age of the customer, which was linked to the survey response.  Any Faceprints that were collected by a tablet within a twenty (20)-hour period were sent to a second API to detect similarities between customers and flagged matched survey results.

7-Eleven’s purpose for collecting such images and Faceprints was to allow an understanding of customer demographics and to detect survey responses from the same individual within a short time period in case such responses were not genuine.

APP and the issue of consent in the 7-Eleven case

The Australian Privacy Principles (APP) are contained within Schedule 1 of the Act and regulate the collection, use, disclosure and security of personal information held by APP entities.  APP 3.3 relates to the collection of sensitive information, defined at section 6 of the Act, and includes obtaining the consent of the person providing the sensitive information.  The OAIC found that Faceprints are considered sensitive information[2]  and reviewed the concept of ‘consent’.  Four (4) key elements of consent were identified:

  • the individual is adequately informed before giving consent;
  • the individual gives consent voluntarily;
  • the consent is current and specific; and
  • the individual has the capacity to understand and communicate their consent.[3]

7-Eleven submitted that all stores displayed a notice at the store entrance which had an image of a video or CCTV camera and alerted customers that, by entering the store, they agree to facial recognition technology capturing and storing their image.  The privacy policy contained on 7-Eleven’s website stated that they only collect personal information that is reasonably necessary for 7-Eleven’s business functions.[4]

The OAIC found that 7-Eleven solicited the Faceprints by inviting customers to complete the voluntary survey, and found that there was no clear evidence that individuals consented to the collection of the facial images or Faceprints as:

  • there was no information on or around the tablet noting the collection of the Faceprints;
  • the notices at the store entrances were unclear and may have created an impression that the images being captured were for surveillance purposes; and
  • the privacy policy contained on 7-Eleven’s website was not linked to the collection of Faceprints to the use of in-store ‘feedback kiosks’.[5]

OAIC declaration

The OAIC declared that, between 15 June 2020 and 24 August 2021, the 7-Eleven Stores Pty Ltd interfered with the privacy of customers through the collection of images and Faceprints and breached the APP by:

  • collecting customer images and Faceprints without consent, and where that information was not reasonably necessary for 7-Eleven’s functions and activities (APP 3.3); and
  • failing to take reasonable steps to notify individuals about the facts and circumstances of collection and the purposes of collection of that information (APP 5).[6]

The OAIC declared that 7-Eleven must destroy, or cause to be destroyed, all Faceprints, and must not repeat or continue the conduct.[7]

Takeaways for businesses

A key issue for 7-Eleven was that there was a lack of clear, express disclosure regarding the collection of the facial images and Faceprints.  The in-store notices were vague and the information was not provided in a clear manner within the vicinity of the tablet.  As such, customers were not adequately informed about what they were being asked to consent to and, as such, could not provide valid consent.

The OAIC declaration highlights that, to be properly compliant with the APPs, businesses must ensure that notices relating to the collection of personal information are displayed clearly and in an appropriate location, and they accurately outline what information is collected and why.

 

Links and further references

Related articles

Uber breaches Australian privacy laws

Cupid Media risks privacy of the dateless

Privacy determination – Sensitive Information held in garden shed

Legislation

Privacy Act 1998 (Cth)

Cases

Commissioner initiated investigation into 7-Eleven Stores Pty Ltd (Privacy) (Corrigendum dated 12 October 2021) [2021] AICmr 50.

Further information

If you need advice on compliance with Australian Privacy Principles, contact us for a confidential and obligation free and discussion:

Malcolm Burrows B.Bus.,MBA.,LL.B.,LL.M.,MQLS.

Legal Practice Director

Telephone: (07) 3221 0013 (Preferred)

Mobile: 0419 726 535

e: mburrows@dundaslawyers.com.au

Written by

Roisin Featherstone - Lawyer - Dundas LawyersRoisin Featherstone B.Biomed.Sc.,M.Med.Lab.Sci.,LL,B.,GDLP.,MQLS.

Lawyer

Telephone: (07) 3221 0013

e: rfeatherstone@dundaslawyers.com.au

 

 

Disclaimer

This article contains general commentary only.  You should not rely on the commentary as legal advice.  Specific legal advice should be obtained to ascertain how the law applies to your particular circumstances.

 

[1] Ibid, at [4] to [6].

[2] Ibid, at [80] to [84].

[3] Ibid, at [50].

[4] Ibid, at [89] to [91].

[5] Ibid, at [93].

[6] Ibid, at [107] and [125].

[7] Ibid, at [135].

 

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