Agence France-Presse reports on an issue in Japan that I’ve discussed before: Digital signage that can recognize individuals’ traits, such as race or gender, and changes advertisements based on the data collected. These signs and billboards, which use surreptitious video surveillance, raise substantial privacy and civil liberty questions. Is there any way for me to opt-out? Or will they gather data on people who walk by ignoring the billboard, as well? This is yet another situation where entities seek to watch you, profile you, track you, and brush off valid questions about privacy and civil rights by saying, “Trust us.” (You can read more of my thoughts on facial recognition in this GCN interview.)
In March, USA Today and the New York Times reported on the safety issues that can arise from these digital signs. Also in March, the San Jose Mercury News detailed the use in the United States of “a new breed of digital signs that can be customized in accordance with a viewer’s age and gender.” BBC News has reported on the use of digital billboards in the United Kingdom.
Digital advertising billboards that ‘read’ passers-by to tailor commercial messages to them are being trialled in Japan. The signs are fitted with cameras that read the gender and age group of people looking at them using face recognition software. […]
A consortium of 11 railway companies launched the one-year pilot project [the Digital Signage Promotion Project] last month, and has set up 27 of the high-tech advertising displays in subway commuter stations around Tokyo.
“The camera can distinguish a person’s sex and approximate age, even if the person only walks by in front of the display, at least if he or she looks at the screen for a second,” said a spokesman for the project. […]
The technology uses face recognition software to glean the gender and age group of passers-by, but operators have promised they will save no recorded images, only the collated data about groups of people.