Japan is helping to fight shoplifting. It remains a huge problem around the world. In America, and elsewhere it costs retail stores billions of dollars every year. Now, a Japanese company has claimed that it has developed software that can catch shoplifters in the act and alert staff members about it. They named it VaakEye.

How does VaakEye work?

As reported by CNN, VaakEye is a surveillance software developed by a startup named Vaak which is based in Tokyo. What makes vaakEye different from other surveillance products is that it monitors the body language of a person.

On the contrary, similar surveillance AI software operates by matching a person's face with criminal records. However, vaakEye identifies even the slightest change in a person's behavior and informs staff members about it.

Vaak company founder and software developer Ryo Tanaka said that the software is capable of monitoring

  • facial expressions,
  • body postures, and
  • even clothing of shoppers.

It took 100,000 hours worth of surveillance data that was fed into the software's algorithm to make it smart enough to pick up these imperceptible changes.

The software was launched in March 2019. Since then it has been installed in 50 stores across Japan for testing purposes. Vaak claims that stores experienced a 77 percent drop in shoplifting losses and the software has the potential to reduce global retail costs from shoplifting which was recorded at around $34 billion in 2017 by Global shrink index.

Criticism on VaakEye

However, this type of surveillance has been criticized all over the world as its morally not correct to stop someone from shopping just because he or she appears to be a thief as judged by AI software for their body language.

When retail analyst Michelle Grant asked the software developer, Tanaka about the legality and morality to refuse someone from entering into a store based on an AI software's shrewdness, he replied that it is not the software that decides who is going to get into the store or whether someone is a thief or not.

It is the security team who decides these issues. The software just provides the information to make the best decision.

Tanaka further explained that vaakEye doesn't take race or gender into account, rather it is a software which is based on behavior. However, Grant and Tanaka both agreed upon taking the consent of customers regarding surveillance software before entering the store so they can opt out if they aren't comfortable.

Laws regarding surveillance software

Tanaka further said that governments should formulate laws to bind store owners to disclose information to their customers relating to surveillance software, what they analyze, and how they work.

However, as related by Christopher Eastham, is an expert in AI at the law firm Fieldfisher, these type of regulations are not yet in place. He said that clarity is needed for regulators and lawmakers regarding the use of technology. They would need to decide under what circumstances its use should be contemplated, appropriate, or at least desirable and then formulate the public policy from there.