In an opinion column at Business 2.0 Press, Center for Democracy and Technology Policy Counsel Harley Geiger (with whom I worked on a set of privacy guidelines for the digital signage industry: “Building the Digital Out-Of-Home Privacy Infrastructure”) discusses the privacy problems that can arise from the use of billboards or other screens that have cameras (and facial-recognition technology) to watch people watching ads in order to improve their marketing.
In the near future, digital signage will likely identify individuals on a widespread basis because it will be profitable to do so. Privacy controls are essential for the digital signage industry to preserve consumer trust. In a 2009 study, 90% of young adults rejected advertising based on information gathered about their offline activities. Unless the industry self-regulates, it is likely to face consumer backlash and reactive government regulation that may stifle this innovative communications medium. It will only take a few bad apples that flout consumer privacy expectations to spoil the image of the whole industry.
At present, however, the digital signage industry has no generally accepted set of privacy standards for these marketing methods. The absence of such guidance is all the more troubling as companies continue to build the infrastructure to support the pervasive use of tracking technologies combined with digital signage. […]
The future of digital signage clearly includes greater adoption of identification and surveillance capabilities, not less. The only real question is the extent to which the industry will rise to the ethical challenge of protecting consumer privacy and maintaining public trust.