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Aldi's robots are watching you... PDF Print E-mail
Written by A. Cyclist   
Friday, 06 October 2023 20:20

Aldi has recently introduced self-scan checkouts (robots) in its Ledbury store, though they are often non-operational (as in the photo to the right).

The number of ‘normal’ checkouts has been reduced from 7 to 5 to accommodate seven robots (three of which can now accept cash: all accept cards).   These incorporate cameras - the upper screen in front of the user displays their image while they’re using the machine.  I have asked Aldi customer services (by email) some pertinent questions:

  1. Why are images of customers being shown without their consent on these checkouts?  I am wondering why you appear to be recording customer activity.
  2. How do these checkouts ascertain if an item has a discount (eg. when an item will be out of date at the end of that day)?

Aldi’s first reply evaded both these questions, so I queried the legality of recording images of customers without their consent (I could not see at the time any warning notices that recording was taking place).  This evoked the following response:

“In relation to self-service checkouts, after an initial trial in a few selected Aldi stores, our self-service checkouts have proved popular with customers, so we are making these available in further stores.  Rest assured that our colleagues will still be on hand if you need them.  In fact, self-service checkouts mean that our store staff can spend more of their time on the shop floor helping customers while they shop.

“Also, we do still have the regular manned tills in the store.  The screens you are referring to are used as a theft deterrent however, please be assured that these do not record sensitive information such as your card details.”

Ah-ha!  To be effective as a theft deterrent, images would have to be recorded to provide evidence.  Whilst it would be expected that any recording is erased immediately after an honest purchase, there has been no statement that this is the case.  On 9th October, I followed with a request for an assurance footage of legitimate transactions would be deleted.  No relevant response has been received to date - just a survey form asking me how I felt about my customer service 'experience', to which I replied negatively...

During a visit today (14th October), I saw notices (with a red background - barely discernible in the image above) to the left of the upper screens stating "Recording in progress".  At the bottom right of the panel to the right of these screens there is a notice (white text on a blue background) stating "For your safety and security, CCTV cameras are in operation on these premises".  This has been there for some time: it refers to cameras in the ceiling that have always been there, but legally it can now apply to the screens as well.  Tenuous, but it's likely Aldi has just scraped being off the hook...

On the second point: I did use a robot when two items I was buying were marked 30% off.  Getting the discount applied required intervention by the attendant overseeing the tills.  Which rather does limit their ability to save time....

Some robots in supermarkets use AI with facial recognition to detect if a customer is old enough to buy an age-related product.  I noticed another customer (obviously well over 18 years of age) with a bottle of wine had to call an attendant....

I don’t like these things and only use them if all manual tills are busy.  However those who do use them are advised:

  • ‘Dumb’ robots can be fooled by a customer scanning an inexpensive item and putting something more expensive that weighs the same in the bagging area.  Whilst I’d never condone such activity (and there is quite a lot on the ’net about it), it is highly likely that part of the theft deterrent is a second camera monitoring the bagging area to check for this.  So anyone doing so can expect to be apprehended by a not-so-friendly security person;
  • Your mugshot will be recorded without your permission, even if you have no nefarious intentions;
  • As with robots in Tesco and elsewhere, don’t use them to buy booze unless you’ve got time to spare;
  • Ensure you get any discount due to you - this is usually done automatically on the manual checkouts.

There is no mention of contacting Aldi’s customer services on its website.  A quick Google search found This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , but this evoked an auto response saying this email address is no longer in use.  Another Google search found an online form, which took my details but wouldn’t let me leave a message.  However, this did get a reply from a human: reposting the original query to the email address from which this response was sent, which is This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , eventually got the responses so far recorded.

On 20th October, I repeated the request made on 9th October for assurance footage would be deleted following an honest transaction.  No reply has been received, from which I conclude Aldi is declining to comment.

Last Updated on Thursday, 26 October 2023 19:31