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    Wall Street Journal: Billboards That Can See You

    The Wall Street Journal takes a look at an issue we’ve discussed before: digital signage (such as electronic billboards) and privacy. (USA Today and the New York Times have detailed safety problems that can arise from these digital billboards.) Digital signage can recognize individuals’ traits, such as race or gender, and changes advertisements based on the data collected. These signs and billboards use surreptitious video surveillance and raise substantial privacy questions. The signs are in use in the United States and the United Kingdom. The Wall Street Journal reports on digital signage use in Japan.

    Japan is taking the lead in adding cameras and sensors to glean more information about who is looking at signs and electronic public displays—flat-screen monitors used like billboards—and is incorporating cellphone technology to make them more interactive.

    The idea is to transform billboards and the like into sophisticated marketing tools that identify and target a specific audience.

    NEC Corp., the third-largest maker of public displays, behind Panasonic Corp. and Samsung Electronics Co., is using facial-recognition technology that can determine how many people looked at a particular display, their gender and even their level of attentiveness. […]

    But the technology raises privacy concerns. There are no laws here to require camera-equipped signs to notify onlookers they are being photographed or rules for how they handle the information they capture as people pass by or stop to look.

    “The problem is that there’s no clear regulation that prohibits those signage systems from storing images,” said Yasuhiko Tajima, a law and media studies professor at Tokyo’s Sophia University.

    The protection of personal privacy depends too much on the conscience of each company that builds these signage systems, said Mr. Tajima, who leads a privacy-rights advocacy group called the Campaign Against Surveillance Society. […]

    In 2009, Japan accounted for 8% of all public-display shipments compared with 41% for North America and 33% for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, according to DisplaySearch. However, the Japanese market is expected to more than double this year versus growth rates of 17% for North America and 28% for Europe, Middle East and Africa.

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