The Intersection: Jan 2014

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Facial Recognition Presents Opportunities – and Challenges – for Tech Savvy Businesses

Using facial recognition technology for advertising inevitably conjures up images from the movie Minority Report, but Hollywood science fiction is quickly becoming reality. Companies are already able to target outdoor ads based on age and gender, and the technology is only going to get better, or according to one’s perspective, even creepier.

In 2012, Plan UK put a billboard at a bus stop in London that used facial recognition technology to assess whether the viewer was a man or a woman. Women viewers saw a video related to global women’s rights issues, but men only saw static facts about the issue. A term that will likely begin to gain traction in this field is adaptive content – advertising that optimizes itself based on the person who’s looking at it.

Startups like IMRSV have developed what they call a “perceptive computing platform” that analyzes not only demographic data but also emotions and attention time. IMRSV includes a privacy notice on their site, which states that: “No personal information is collected. No images are saved or recorded.” IMRSV says their technology can be used for dynamic digital signage, shopper insights, and gaming experiences based on emotions, among other things.

Collecting anonymous demographic data is one thing, but the technology exists to specifically identify someone based on their face. Facedeals, an app in development that Facebook users can opt into, will be able to scan a customer’s face as they enter a business. It will identify them and send them a personalized deal based on what that person has liked on Facebook. Not only does this benefit customers, but it also helps businesses build loyalty. Of course, privacy concerns abound. Most people add photos to Facebook for a quick and convenient way to share images with their friends and family. They may not realize that they are also helping Facebook build a huge database of faces. Facedeals is not affiliated with Facebook, but they’re counting on access to that database for their product to work. How Facebook will choose to use their database down the road, and whom they decide to grant access to, remains uncertain.

"Transparency should become equally important."As facial recognition technology becomes more prevalent, businesses should be mindful of the opportunities and challenges it presents. While delivering highly relevant ads and collecting demographic data on customers benefits business, transparency should become equally important. Customers will likely be wary about visiting an establishment where they think mannequins may be staring back at them, and a digital ad that seems a little too personalized could foster negative feelings towards the brand. Businesses will have to tread carefully to build loyalty, rather than repel customers. Expect savvy consumers to begin demanding that corporations and small businesses alike publicly disclose what data they are collecting, how they are using it now, and how they are planning to use it later. In fact, data collection methods should become an integral part of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) reporting in the future.