From national surveillance of our emails to local street cameras monitoring our movements, we’ve learned that Big Brother definitely is watching us. But his Little Brother is watching, too.
Little Bro is the spreading network of corporate cameras that are hidden in malls, big box stores, supermarkets, and other retail outlets. These are not security cameras to detect theft, but “face tracking” systems that are put in advertising kiosks that are cropping up in more and more shopping areas.
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The kiosks contain life-size screens that run a constant series of flashy, 15-second videos touting various products. The videos entice shoppers to pause and see what’s being offered. But, as you’re watching the ad, the ad is watching you! Embedded in the screen, or hidden around it, is a camera connected to software that can detect your gender, age range, and possibly your ethnicity. The system then quickly pulls up a video of a product that might appeal specifically to someone of your profile – maybe an ad for video games, cosmetics, motorcycles, etc.
“This is pro-active merchandizing,” exudes a lady whose title is “chief measurement officer” for one of the peddlers of this sneak-a-peek technology. More to the point, it’s pro-active snooper-vision that secretly tracks who watches the ads and for how long – info that is passed on to the advertisers. The companies insist that no pictures or identifying data are stored, so, hey, it’s okey-dokey – trust us!
Uh, no. They are monitoring us for profit without telling us or revealing what details they’re collecting and for what purpose. Who’s watching them? There are no privacy protections built into these secret systems. To keep up with this creeping commercial intrusion, connect with the Center for Democracy and Technology at www.cdt.org.
“Ads can keep eye on who’s watching,” Austin American Statesman,” February 2, 2009.