Wednesday, August 27, 2008

RFID: Facial Profiling

I've been in a state of ennui about RFID - Wal Mart demands it, the government wants it, the citizenry decry it, techies deploy it, blah, blah, blah, nothing new - but Emily Steel's August 21, 2008 report in the Wall Street Journal (The Ad Changes
With the Shopper In Front of It)
electrified me.

Steel writes: “In the latest effort to tailor ads to specific consumers, marketers are starting to personalize in-store promotions based on products the consumer recently picked off a shelf or purchased -- and in the near future, based on what the shopper looks like.” Steel goes on to describe a relatively mundane Procter & Gamble RFID deployment at a Metro Extra store in Germany and a specific marketing effort at two Dunkin' Donuts locations in Buffalo, New York.

Then her article gets interesting: “Most of the experimentation by marketers is being done with the new digital screens that are appearing next to cash registers and in store aisles. Because cameras are embedded in many of these digital screens displaying the ads, marketers are hoping to serve up ads based on the consumer's appearance.

The company powering the screens for Dunkin', YCD Multimedia, is in the midst of deploying facial-recognition technologies that can classify people into certain demographic groups by identifying their approximate age and their sex.

Companies in the securities industries have been experimenting with facial-recognition technologies for some time. The technology often works by capturing an image of a person and using sophisticated algorithms to analyze features like the size and shape of the nose, eyes, cheekbones and jaw line -- against databases of face information. At the 2001 Super Bowl in Tampa Bay, Fla., for instance, security officials used facial-recognition technologies to scan for terrorists and known criminals.”

As menacing as the technology sounds, it was Steel's closing line that really set my hair on end: “Technology firms hope to ward off any potential privacy issues by not capturing and storing any personally identifiable information about consumers.”

WHAT?!?! “Not capturing and storing any personally identifiable information about consumers”... other than capturing the facial scan. And other than capturing and storing the consumers electronic transaction data. And other than capturing and storing an electronic dossier of what method of payment was made in whose name and of what billing address. So, other than capturing and storing all of that information (some of which is distinctly personally identifiable) and simultaneously capturing a facial scan (by nature as personally identifiable as it gets) and capturing and storing the relationship between the tandem captures, this nifty lil' technology poses no potential threat to consumer privacy.

More to follow.