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    Harley Geiger: Digital Signage and Consumer Privacy

    UPDATE: The Digital Signage Expo link to the article isn’t working anymore. Here’s an alternate link.

    Center for Democracy and Technology Staff Counsel Harley Geiger (a friend and colleague) writes about digital signage and consumer privacy at Digital Signage Expo. Some billboards are gathering data from passers-by via embedded cameras. The digital signs log data such as gender, approximate age and how long someone looks at an advertisement. The data-gathering and surveillance practices raise substantial privacy questions. Geiger urges the industry to address these privacy questions now.

    The industry trend is clearly toward greater identification and surveillance capability — not less. It is very likely that DOOH media will one day routinely identify individual consumers for the simple reason that it will be profitable to do so. If that prediction is correct, it puts the digital signage industry on a collision course with consumer privacy. All parties would be best served by setting credible, transparent privacy standards before digital signage becomes a center-stage problem. […]

    Numerous DOOH companies already take privacy seriously. Some of the major companies using facial recognition audience measurement techniques — such as Trumedia, Quividi and Cognovision — openly publish privacy policies stating they do not retain images or identify individuals. […]

    A published privacy policy is an important move, but companies should take other steps as well. Consumers should be notified when digital signage units are using measurement and identification technologies. When faced with the question directly, however, in at least two separate instances, digital signage operators have refused to identify which particular units use facial recognition. This lack of transparency will bolster the view that audience measurement tools are invasive. Therefore, companies that attempt to conceal their practices are asking for trouble.

    Other privacy safeguards will have to depend on the particular technology, what consumer information the unit collects, and the context of its use. While an opt-out might be sufficient minimum protection for anonymous facial recognition data reported in aggregate, an opt-in is more appropriate for any technology that can identify unique individuals or their property, such as RFID or mobile marketing.

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