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    BBC News: Big Brother is watching you shop

    BBC News has a story about an issue we’ve discussed before: companies using billboards with cameras (and facial recognition technology) to watch people watching ads in order to improve their marketing.

    The first step for a facial recognition system is to recognise a human face and extract it from the rest of the scene. Next, the system measures the distance between the features — a distinctive aspect of our faces that does not change with disguises or even surgery.

    Matches can then be found in databases in under a second, although 100% accuracy is not yet guaranteed.

    Currently the private sector is finding such systems useful for what it calls “targeted marketing,” or “dynamic advertising.”

    Japan’s NEC, for instance, sells face-recognition technology to allow advertisers to tailor what ad is showing on a digitised screen depending on the viewer’s sex and age.

    Tracking systems, such as these, can determine the viewer’s gender 85-90% of the time, approximate age and ethnicity, and change the ads accordingly.

    Marketers are investigating other ways of using technology-equipped billboards to target consumers. In the United Kingdom, the car registration data of millions of motorists were sold to an oil company that used the data for marketing. Giant digital billboards from Castrol scanned motorists’ license plates, ran the plates through a database and instantly displayed on the billboards what the best oil was for that specific driver’s car.

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