British supermarket chain Tesco is installing camera’s
with facial recognition in 450 gas stations, in order to show
personalized ads. It is a first, but there are major privacy concerns.
Minority Report, for real
The heart of the system behind OptimEyes is a built-in camera that can detect the customer’s sex and age category (3 at the moment) using several tens of pre-programmed body features. That particular customer will be receiving targeted ads, meaning a trucker will not be seeing sanitary napkin commercials, but rather energy drinks - especially when he comes for gas in the middle of the night…
It reminds people of the movie “Minority Report” from 2002, where Tom Cruise’s character received personalized ads after a (what was then considered) sci-fi-tinted system scanned his iris.
Store experience vs (breach of) privacy
“This could change the face of British retail”, stated Lord Sugar of Amscreen, the firm producing the camera system. “It is our plan to expand the screens into as many stores as possible.” Each advert will take some 10 seconds and an entire loop will occupy 100 seconds.
“We’re always looking to work with partners who provide innovative ways to enhance the customer shopping experience”, said Peter Cattell, director for Tesco petrol stations. “This new dynamic screen provides the perfect means for us to do this: the ability to tailor content based on the customer, the time and the location.” Tesco believes the new advertising platform would reach some 5 million adult customers per week.
Neither Amscreen nor Tesco are worried about possible privacy issues. “The customers’ faces are not being stored”, Lord Sugar confirmed. Not every Briton is soothed by those words: “People would never accept a degree of surveillance for law enforcement purposes, but these systems are solely designed to watch us for collecting marketing data”, Big Brother Watch’s Nick Pickles thinks. "People would never accept the police keeping a real-time log of which shops we go in, but this technology can do just that. It is a surveillance state by the shop door."
(translated by Gary Peeters)