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    Update on Billboards Using Facial Recognition Technology

    There has been an increase in the use of “digital signage,” especially connected to targeting advertising toward individuals. What is “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. This is supposed to help build a better billboard — one that is tailored specifically to the individual standing in front of it. However, the data-gathering and surveillance practices raise substantial privacy questions. I’ve written about the issue before, and 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).

    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 Wall Street Journal has reported on digital signage use in Japan.

    Now, the Los Angeles Times reports on the expansion of these digital billboards and their use of facial-recognition biometric technology in casinos, Chicago-area bars and more. (Check out the related graphic.)

    Once the stuff of science fiction and high-tech crime fighting, facial recognition technology has become one of the newest tools in marketing, even though privacy concerns abound.

    The Venetian resort, hotel and casino in Las Vegas has started using it on digital displays to tailor suggestions for restaurants, clubs and entertainment to passersby.

    Kraft Foods Inc. and Adidas say they are planning to experiment with it as early as this year to push their products.

    A group of U.S. bar owners in Chicago last month started using facial recognition, in conjunction with mounted cameras, to keep tabs on the male/female ratio and age mixes of their crowds. Patrons planning a night out can use mobile apps to get a real-time check of a venue’s vibe. […]

    Privacy advocates worry the technology is one more way for companies to quietly gather data about people without their permission or even knowledge. In June, Facebook Inc. rolled out a facial recognition feature worldwide that could pinpoint individuals. It was used to automatically identify friends when you uploaded photos of them onto the social network.

    When members realized this was happening, many loudly objected, calling it creepy and invasive. The feature still exists, but the company apologized and made it more clear how users can opt out.

    Earlier this year, Google Inc. said privacy concerns drove the company to abandon a project for mobile phones that would have enabled users to snap photos of someone and then run a search online for other photos of the person.

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