Facial Recognition Software Brings Personalized Ads To The Supermarket

from the I-saw-what-you-bought-there dept

Facial recognition software is getting to the point where there are some very interesting things that can be done with it in everyday life. That includes really bad ideas like enabling the police to run record checks on everyone who passes in front of their body-worn cameras. But it also means that businesses can start applying the technology in novel ways. Here’s what is happening on a trial basis in some German supermarkets and post offices, as reported by Deutsche Welle:

There’s a camera and a screen set up by the check-out. A visual sensor scans the faces of waiting customers who have looked directly at the camera and detects whether they’re male or female and how old they are.

Marketing company Echion is running the cameras and screens. The brands that advertise with them have clearly delineated target groups. If the visual sensor detects that enough people who fall into a company’s target demographic are looking at the screen, an ad by this company will start playing.

Being shown ads that are likely to be more relevant to you is probably no bad thing. But once cameras are in place, it would be natural for shops to start using them for other more complex tasks, like spotting known shoplifters:

faces of individuals caught on camera are converted into a biometric template and cross-referenced with a database for a possible match with past shoplifters or known criminals. Some stores in the US give shoplifting suspects the option of allowing themselves to be photographed, rather than arrested. All this had been made possible by the arrival of networked, high-resolution security cameras and rapidly advancing analytical capabilities.

That’s from a story in the Guardian last year, so it’s likely that the technology has moved on considerably since then. It’s easy to think of more troubling extensions to the idea of scanning shoppers: for example, linking up to other databases of troublemakers and ne’er-do-wells, or to selfies derived from social networks.

As well as obvious privacy issues, explored in the Deutsche Welle report, a more general concern is the normalization this latest application of facial scanning might produce. Once cameras coupled with facial recognition software are routinely installed in everyday settings like supermarkets — with appropriate warnings — perhaps we will begin to accept them as the norm, and barely notice their silent spread to other locations and situations.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+

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Comments on “Facial Recognition Software Brings Personalized Ads To The Supermarket”

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Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Eventual Consequence

What will they do when shoppers start appearing at the checkout line wearing masks or bandannas that cover most of their face? Scream ROBBERY?

A more likely scenario will be they shop elsewhere. Just like I stopped going to WalMart because of the abuse of their security people at the door who want to search me leaving the store. A no go, for me.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I had a similar problem with Radio Shack, who only asked for my zip code, which I refused. I eventually began asking for the manager to tell them that I objected to being asked, and that I wished them to forward my strenuous objections up the chain of command.

I did note that late in their American existence (they still exist elsewhere in the world, at least in name) that they stopped this practice. I wonder how much this policy contributed to their eventual bankruptcy?

David says:

Re: "More relevant"

“As a registered sex offender, can I interest you in handcuffs and piano wires?” It doesn’t take much in the U.S. to be registered as a sex offender.

“Missy, you definitely want some hair removal for that ugly mustache of yours.”

I don’t want a cashier to meddle in my life based on staring in my face, and I don’t want their register to meddle in my life either. Most particularly not while the next in line gets to see the register making snide remarks at me and insinuating what departments it considers me lacking in.

Cowardly Lion says:

Re: "More relevant"

I was going to pick up that comment as well…

Being shown ads IS a bad thing. Who the hell do these people think they are, getting in my face… “Hey, can I distract you for a second to show you some shitty products you didn’t want and definitely don’t need…” “No. Fuck off. I was enjoying nice thoughts about that hot bird in the next lane, you inconsiderate dick.”

DarkKnight (profile) says:


I don’t care about targeted advertising. I wouldn’t be looking at the camera or screen. I’m more interested in Police Cams in neighborhoods like mine, to make it easy to identify known criminals or unknown criminals, and identify anyone attempting any illegal activities. That makes sense and would allow the Police to do the jobs that we pay taxes toward them doing. Advertisers can go to >>>>

mb (profile) says:

Re: NO

That sounds like a great idea, until…
* Hackers gain access to the feeds and track your personal habits to target your house for burglary. It’s not a matter of if, it is when.
* You are implicated in some terrorist activity because the data analytics on your behaviour patterns turned a false positive.
* The police decide they need extra revenue streams and start selling access to their video feeds to advertisers.

hiroshimarrow (profile) says:

Intrusive at a point when egress is only desired.

“Oh, HI, %personwhodidn’tlookatthecamera%! We see you have made all your purchasing decisions today. Would you be interested in non-lubricating crunchy peanut butter for our desperate attempt to make you leave the line you just waited 10 minutes in and go add our distinct and totally name brand product to your basket?”

Next up it will scan your groceries, as well. “Hey, %yournamehere%, you are buying ground beef, and the pharmacy items you bought today indicate high cholesterol. Did you know that ground turkey is better for you? Turkey! The other ground meat!”

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Being shown ads that are likely to be more relevant to you is probably no bad thing. But once cameras are in place, it would be natural for shops to start using them for other more complex tasks, like spotting known shoplifters.

Wait, wait, hang on a sec. Let me get this straight. There’s probably no problem with targeted advertising–which everybody hates and esteems those who practice it only slightly higher than drug dealers and pedophiles–but trying to keep thieves (literal thieves, not digital-copying "thieves") from causing trouble for you is worthy of criticism?

Aaron Walkhouse (profile) says:

Re: Based on accusations only?

Note that they didn’t even consider the need for a conviction
before adding legally-innocent folks to a List of Future Harassment.

Kind of reminds one of copyright trolls who insist an accusation
is enough to disconnect your internet, doesn’t it? ‌ ‌ ;]

In Canada, searches are expressly forbidden without probable
cause. ‌ All security guards are trained and licensed; and regulated
to never demand searches at random or by suspicion alone.

Naturally, untrained and unlicensed persons are not permitted
to do searches at all. ‌ They are required to call the police for
that, even if they successfully and legally made a citizen’s arrest.

Anonymous Coward says:

Am I the only one who HATES most demographic targeting?

Oh hurray! Instead of a wide variety of products and services I might find engaging or enjoyable, I instead get narrowly tailored advertising for things they TELL ME I should want or things I already have. So I get to watch the same 5 or 6 ads ad nauseum because these are the things that ‘my demographic’ wants, ignoring the fact that if the ads themselves were actually effective, I’d likely already have them after the second or third viewing….

Its the same thing that drives me nuts about online ‘targeted advertising’. I buy something online, and I get to spend the next long chunk of time having most ads ‘target’ the thing I ALREADY BOUGHT rather than complimentary goods and serves that might go along with it, or things that… I dunno.. I DON’T HAVE YET!

Anonymous Coward says:

When video cameras first started appearing in late-night and 24-hour shops decades ago to film people as they pointed guns at the store clerks, there were always television monitors hanging from the ceiling just inside the entrance door, to notify to everyone upon entering the store that they were being filmed. And for anyone who missed seeing those monitors, or the notification sign next to them, there were large, prominent video cameras hanging from the ceiling behind the cash registers.

These days, however, store surveillance systems are usually completely hidden, with tiny cameras hidden inside numerous ceiling pods, and no visible monitor to warn customers that they are being filmed. Even the dining rooms of fast-food restaurants are now usually fully video monitored, for no apparent reason (other than “because we can”) as there’s nothing to steal or shoplift there.

How did our society evolve from a light least-objectionable full-notification surveillance that we started out with to the stealth, blanket surveillance that we have now?

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