An Auckland supermarket is reversing policy that asked customers to remove their face masks so they could be better scanned by the store's facial recognition software.

The Papakura branch of New World had been enforcing the policy, asking those wearing masks to remove them and put them back on once they were inside, to help combat theft.

Foodstuffs, operators of New World, Pak'N Save and Four Square, have now apologised for inconveniencing customers with a policy that was out of step with public health messaging.

Concern had been raised online about the policy, with one local woman complaining that a family member had been targeted and asked to remove his mask when others were allowed to walk straight into the store.


"While entering the store he was made to take his mask off so the cameras could see his face! He was the only one who was told to remove his mask," the woman wrote on Facebook.

The sign, which has now been removed. Photo / Supplied
The sign, which has now been removed. Photo / Supplied

In response to Herald enquiries, Foodstuffs spokeswoman Antoinette Laird said the facial recognition software helped prevent theft.

"Unfortunately, in this case the store has high shoplifting rates and facial recognition is used to help manage significant stock loss. Normally this technology works without interrupting customers experience in-store and is simply a tool to assist the store and Police with minimising criminal activity," Laird said.

"The store took the decision to place a sign at entry asking all customers to put their face masks on following entry into store, this is not in line with Government guidance on mask use.

"The sign has now been removed and customers will not be required to remove them on entry. We apologise for any inconvenience caused to customers."

While Foodstuffs did not respond to Herald questions about how many stores use facial recognition, they have previously defended their use of the technology.

In 2018, Foodstuffs told the Herald: "Like all other retailers, we take theft and the safety of our customers and staff very seriously.

"Theft is a growing problem, as is the increase in aggressive behaviour towards our staff. There is no shortage of incidents resulting in significant harm and sadly, in a recent tragic case, death.


"We use multiple strategies to protect our people, customers and product and we make no apology for this.

"Where CCTV - which may include facial recognition technology - is used in our stores, signage alerts customers to the fact images may be taken, as per privacy requirements.

"Footage can only be used for the purpose it is intended, which is as a deterrent and tool against theft and as a means of keeping customers and staff safe."

"CCTV helps reduce the risk of falsely accusing innocent customers of theft and can assist the police in their investigations, should it be required.

"Facial recognition is simply a more accurate version of CCTV."

As well as facial recognition, Foodstuffs also uses the Auror system in some of its stores.


Through the Auror portal, retailers can enter information such as images of alleged offenders, vehicle registration numbers, details of the person's methods, the products taken and the date and time of the claimed offence. The information is forwarded automatically to the police crime reporting line.