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    Update: More on the Use of Facial-recognition Technology on Shoppers

    I’ve discussed before the increasing use of facial-recognition technology, especially in advertising in “digital signage.” Most people have heard of the term connected with billboards or other screens that have cameras (and facial-recognition technology) to watch people watching ads in order to improve their marketing. The digital signs log data such as gender, approximate age and how long someone looks at an advertisement. As identification technology becomes cheaper and more prevalent, it could easily unmask people and track their movements. Those who were previously part of the unnamed crowd could be singled out for identification through these digital advertisements. (See this previous post for a discussion about the First Amendment right to free speech and how widespread identification technologies can affect that. Also, I worked with the Center for Democracy and Technology on a set of privacy guidelines for the digital signage industry, “Building the Digital Out-Of-Home Privacy Infrastructure” (pdf).)

    Last year, BusinessWeek discussed stores using camera-security systems to track consumers’ movements for marketing purposes. A couple of years ago, the New York Times reported on the increasing use of facial-recognition technology on the general public, such as in a bar. USA Today and the New York Times have detailed safety problems that can arise from these digital billboards. BBC News has reported on the use of digital billboards in the United Kingdom. The Los Angeles Times reported on the expansion of these digital billboards and their use of facial-recognition biometric technology in casinos, Chicago-area bars and more. And the Economist reported on the use of facial recognition technology in digital signs and how advertisers are gathering data on people beyond just what they’re looking at — the tech can read your mood and check your vital signs, as well:

    Now, the Wall Street Journal takes a look at the use of facial-recognition systems to estimate individuals’ age and gender as they shop:

    SEOUL—Shoppers at the new International Finance Center Mall in Seoul can find their way around the four-story complex by approaching one of 26 information kiosks. When they do, they also are being watched.

    Just above each kiosk’s LCD touch screen sit two cameras and a motion detector. As a visitor is recorded, facial-identity software estimates the person’s gender and age.

    The system’s makers, two companies from South Korea’s SK Holdings Co. conglomerate, plan to allow advertisers to tailor interactive ads on the kiosk by those attributes. A 40-something man looking up a restaurant on the kiosk may be shown an ad for a steakhouse in the mall, while a 20-something woman might get one for a clothing store. Shoppers will be able to interact with the ads with hand motions.

    The system, which is in data-collection phase now and will begin full operation early next year, is the first of its kind in South Korea and one of the first in the world. Since the mall opened early last month, it recorded 1.8 million faces at or near the kiosks. Most shoppers were recorded several times as they visited the kiosks around the mall. […]

    Executives at the companies said they won’t record interactions at a kiosk or store any of the images. They also won’t ask for any personal information from people as they use it. South Korean privacy laws prevent the companies from collecting personal information from customers without permission. […]

    Similar work is happening around the world. In Australia, Millward Brown, a market research company, is using webcams to monitor facial reaction to TV commercials. A Nashville ad agency, Redpepper, is marketing a system for retailers and restaurants to offer deals to regular customers who are spotted by face-recognizing cameras and allow an automatic location check-in via Facebook.

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