Shh. The Ads Are Watching You.

Remember that scene in Minority Report, where Tom Cruise walks through the mall of the future, and retinal scans trigger the holographic billboards along the walls to call his name, and do some seriously targeted advertising?

No? Well, OK, here it is:

This scene is one of my favorites in Minority Report, since this kind of intrusive technology seems just over the horizon, and that the ideas behind it, at least, are already here, in Google Adwords, or the banners of dancing mortgage refinanciers who know where you live.

Then today, in my work inbox, I find this:

September 30, 2009, Budapest

Face Analytics Based Retail Customer Analytics Software is Being Launched

Intellio’s new face recognition technology based Retail Customer Analytics Solution provides real-time customer behavior data for retailers and marketers

This was sent to me, I suppose, soley because as a Marketing Manager, they thought I would be interested in evil.

Intellio’s new software solution VisiScanner™ provides detailed statistical data about visitors to retail outlets and the target audience of offline display media, such as billboards and digital signage systems. Intellio’s VisiScanner™, based on the in-house developed face analytics technology, provides a detailed, real time analysis of the number, gender and estimated age of potential customers.

VisiScanner™ sounded enough like a joke to me (and Intellio would make a great satire/sci fi company, if it weren’t real) that I checked Snopes before posting — but I suppose the tech in Minority Report didn’t seem that far off because it isn’t.

The press release also contained a video download, which I uploaded below — silent footage of people walking past a security camera, with little blue and red text bubbles displaying their age and gender on the screen like a heads-up display.

I’m genuinely interested in which identifiers they use in a face (or a body) to tell male from female, old from young. The range of people in the video seem to all be 20 to 40, I wonder if it’s less effective for folks outside that range . . .

Finally, I got to their privacy policy:

Privacy Policy

The Face Recognition software was designed to comply with general privacy policy standards. By default the software does not record images of the faces as it only creates anonymous statistics. Users, however, have the option to override the default setting. In this case, they need to be able to prove that their actions are in line with the relevant local privacy and data protection regulations.

It’s only a (short) matter of time before the billboards will call your name.

Read the full press release from Intellio.

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