Banks have long embraced surveillance systems to prevent robbery. But they’re also using the technology to monitor customers, workers, and homeless people.

Several US banking giants are implementing AI cameras to analyze customer preferences, track what staff are doing, and observe activities around their premises, Reuters reports.

The tools are being used for a variety of purposes. Wells Fargo is leveraging the tech to prevent fraud, while City National plans to deploy facial recognition near ATMs as authentication methods.

JPMorgan, meanwhile, has been using computer vision to analyze archive footage of customer behavior. Their early analysis found that more men arrive before or after lunch, while women are more likely to visit in mid-afternoon.

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One unnamed bank is using AI to arrange their layouts more ergonomically, while another is monitoring homeless people setting up tents at drive-through ATMs. An executive told Reuters that staff can play an audio recording “politely asking” the loiterers to leave. Sounds delightful.

All these new applications of AI come amid growing concerns about AI-powered surveillance.

Biometric scans can encroach on democratic freedoms, and facial recognition is notorious for misidentifying people of color, women, and trans people.

Critics have also noted that consumer monitoring can lead to income and racial discrimination. In 2020, the drug store chain Rite Aid shut down its facial recognition system after it was found to be mostly installed in lower-income, non-white neighborhoods.

Bank executives told Reuters that they were sensitive to these issues, but a backlash from customers and staff could stall their plans. Their deployments will also be restricted by a growing range of local laws.

A number of US cities have recently prohibited the use of facial recognition, including Portland, which last year banned the tech in all privately-owned places accessible to the public. The Oregon Bankers Association has asked for an exemption, but their request was rejected.

Still, in most places in the US banks are free to roll out AI monitoring tools. It’s another step in the sleepwalk towards surveillance capitalism.

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