If the privacy police weren’t concerned about intrusive advertising before, they’re going to have a field day with this one. I encourage you to read this story in the Los Angeles Times about the increasing use of facial recognition software technology to identify the age, gender, and race of those who approach new digital advertising displays. When the display pegs your demographic, it serves up targeted ads for products it believes you should be interested in.
When these displays are in a specific retailer (i.e., Banana Republic), they will tailor ad content for merchandise carried in that location. Think of it like Amazon.com’s suggestions of books that you may like based on other books you have previously ordered.
But it doesn’t take much imagination to conceive of situations where this technology is ripe for abuse. For instance, I doubt many middle age men will appreciate having Viagra ads launched when they step in front of a digital display. Those who are overweight won’t enjoy being treated to a steady barrage of ice cream and candy bar commercials. Mirror, mirror, on the wall.
It isn’t a big leap either to build facial recognition software into the average TV set. It will be more than a little unnerving to have ads of specificity delivered when you enter the room of your own home. Guys may not notice any difference if it is a beer commercial during an NFL game, but if it is a spot for a sleep aid, because the TV in your bedroom notices you are still awake wide-eyed at 3 am, then most people are going to be disturbed by the intrusion.
We all wear our gender, race, and age on our sleeves, I mean, shoulders. However, that doesn’t mean we want to be continually reminded of our demographics by the talking box. Opportunities for abuse by advertisers, law enforcement, government policymakers abound. Time to dust off your copy of Orwell’s 1984.
We’ve written before about how companies like Preference Central are trying to solve privacy issues in online advertising before the regulators dictate tougher controls. This opens a whole new front for major consumer brands and retailers to be careful about. Facial recognition software has long been used in CCTV video monitoring in the security and access control industries. With QR codes and personalized URLs now delivering customized ad messaging, it would not be hard to imagine a future where TV commercials are talking to you by name and citing past purchases and inner cravings. It’s all a lot unnerving.
Racial messaging is an especially sensitive topic right now. For instance, can anyone imagine any young African-American men being appreciative to look into a digital display and having this ad served up to them?