"Yes it's like something out of 'Minority Report,' but this could change the face of British retail and our plans are to expand the screens into as many supermarkets as possible," Simon Sugar, CEO of Amscreen, the company providing the technology to Tesco, told The Grocer magazine. Sugar is the son of Sir Alan Sugar, the British billionaire who's chairman of Amscreen. But should Brits -- or any consumers around the world -- aim to turn science fiction portrayed in the movie into retailing today?
In Minority Report, set in 2054, advertisements use retinal recognition to identify individuals and call them by name to sell them products, as highlighted in one of the famous scenes:
Amscreen's technology, called OptimEyes, is licensed from the French company Quividi. Tesco is installing the software at cash registers in its 450 gas stations across the country. The software will identify a shopper's gender and one of three age categories. Ads will be displayed based on those parameters and the time of day. Each ad will run up to 10 seconds in a loop of 100 seconds.
Although many articles describing Tesco's plans call the technology facial "recognition," Quividi calls it "detection" because the system doesn't attempt to recognize the person's actual identity.
Today's technology can rather accurately determine a person's age group and gender in real-time. Recognizing a person's identity (e.g., Alan Reiter) by matching facial characteristics with image databases can be accomplished with several methods, but it's less accurate than the various American law enforcement TV shows like CSI and NCIS would have you believe.
OptimEyes is already teamed with some 6,000 screens globally in health clubs, airports, stores, and other locations. There's nothing to stop Tesco from installing the software inside its supermarkets and home stores in 14 countries around the world. Also, Tesco will sell the data to advertisers.
It is time for a step-change in advertising; brands deserve to know not just an estimation of how many eyeballs are viewing their adverts, but who they are too.... [A]dvertisers will have instant access to all of this information, meaning we can deliver the type of insight that only online has previously been able to achieve.
Other companies are selling similar products. Rich Heap, Future Cities' community editor, wrote about a mall in Seoul that is using facial detection with its displays. Heap noted the mall's owner and manager may use this information to help them evaluate the type of shoppers in the mall. For a different perspective, read security researcher Troy Hunt's blog post analyzing the potential implications of such technology, especially integrating it with other identification technologies that many stores can and do use.
A big question for cities is whether they should allow facial detection, let alone facial recognition. After all, cities enact all sorts of regulations for retail shops. Should customer identification technology come under city purview?
Nick Pickles, the director of Big Brother Watch in London and an oft-quoted source for UK journalists writing about privacy issues, says the public accepts surveillance for safety reasons. However, he told BBC News:
Now we are seeing that surveillance that is being installed in shops and in streets that was for public safety purposes is being used for advertising. Are we willing to accept our everyday movements being monitored and analyzed, not to keep us safe but purely to allow advertisers to target us? I think people will start to say no, our privacy is worth more than a few advertising dollars.
I suspect most cities and their residents will shrug off Tesco's technology. After all, for years cities have been using facial recognition software and installing cameras for all types of security purposes; condemning retail facial recognition would be like the pot calling the kettle black. Also, cities are leery of scaring off businesses with too much regulation.
In the bigger surveillance picture, Tesco's implementation is relatively unobtrusive. No individual information is stored, although shoppers aren't allowed to opt in or out of the system.
However, we are increasingly giving away our privacy bit by bit. In the years ahead, how much privacy will cities, countries, and big business let us keep?
Okay, now I understand. We're seeing new types of ads (e.g., facial recognition) and ads on mobile devices, but I think we've got a long way before new types of ads and technologies become as dominant -- and as lucrative -- as the "old fashioned" ones.
That said, new technologies will continue to be developed and tested. Eventually, "The Minority Report" ads -- and even more advanced advertising than that -- will be here and we'll wonder what happened. But even in "The Minority Report," there still were "billboard" ads -- they were just on large monitors and included facial recogntion. We've already got ads on large monitors, and facial recognition (not just detection) might be available for advertisers, too, although that could cause problems.
Re: Facial Recognition Actually, I meant that advertising as we know it -- print ads, billboards -- may be dwindling in favor of subliminal ads and targeted ads online. But I am wrong, I think, and on reflection I believe that advertising and marketing have become so ingrained in our Western way of life that we don't even notice it for what it is anymore.
The reactions to the NSA's monitoring ranges all over the place from absolute horror to "attaboy NSA," but I'm glad to see this has started a worldwide discussion and that most people are at least somewhat distressed. Facial detection and recognition fits into this discussion of privacy.
We're already sliding down the slope and have to decide whether to gain a foothold and stop or to continue the slide. I suspect that in many countries the sliding will continue, including in the U.S.
Re: Facial Recognition Yes, I'm not thinking we are close to revolution to preserve privacy. One only has to look at the the repsonse to widespread monitoing of telecommunications at many levels. Of course this is a differnet topic, but there are real societal shifts related to acceptance of a loss privacy in all parts of our lives. I do think it is a slippert slope that can have dangerouse consequences.
My point is that facial detection/facial recognition and other technologies for advertising and marketing isn't going away. It will continue to evolve and be implemented as long as cities and countries allow it. Companies will push the envelope to the limit, and beyond if they can get away with it.
Some technologies will offer "opt in" or "opt out" (and companies will want only opt out).
This is one more science fictionish scenario that is already coming true. As a reader of science fiction since about the third or fourth grade, I realize not all of the ideas will come true. But there's no doubt that advertisers will continue to use as much technology as is effective. Citizens will have to decide when enough is enough... or too much.
Alan Sugar and his ilk will continue to proclaim how advertisers "deserve" all the data they can get.
Advertising won't decrease. It will change to adopt more effective techniques, and technology will continue to play a major role. Facial detection and facial recognition will be part of that, at least in many countries where it is be legal. The march of technology isn't going to end, unless there's a true revolution against it.
Advertising dwindling? Really? Perhaps I'm behind the times but that hasn't been my impression. It's quite possible that advertising money will switch more to mobile, but advertising itself will continue to roll along. Or are you thinking that "sponsored content" or subscriptions will replace/overshadow advertising?
Advertising and marketing will continue to employ advanced technology and it will only get spookier. I suspect that in the future (20 years?) "The Minority Report" will be considered simplistic.
Your comment, Alan, is the crux of the matter to me. You say Tesco's cameras are only using facial "detection", but that's just one small step away from facial "recognition".
As Simon Sugar stated (in your article), the justification for intruding on privacy is less clean cut for advertising than it is for security. But if advertisers go that route then there has to be an opt-out option in my view, in the same way there's a "right to be forgotten" (on the Web) law here in Europe.
Re: Eh Nicole, I think you're right about the overall effectiveness of this kind of marketing. Not only might it get things wrong, but web tracking has become quite sophisticated. I'm amazed at how ads appear on pages for items Googled or searched on Amazon, not to mention localization of advertising based on geographic tracking.
Re: Facial Recognition @kqyfm, this really does cross the line in my view. We are aware of certain observation for general security or even more invasive means when traveling, but the use of our images to obtain personal information is objectionable.
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