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Live facial recognition cameras could capture shoppers' personal data to bombard them with adverts

·2-min read
PD-facial-recognition.jpg
PD-facial-recognition.jpg

Live facial recognition (LFR) technology is being developed to enable companies to screen people in real time, profile them and then bombard them with tailored adverts while they are outside walking, the information commissioner has warned.

Elizabeth Denham said she had already reviewed an application for use of the LFR technology in advertising amid concerns over the potential invasion of people’s privacy through collecting sensitive personal data on a mass scale without their knowledge, choice or control.

In a legal opinion spelling out the need for privacy safeguards, she said she was already aware of industry proposals for digital out-of-home advertising where billboards were fitted with facial recognition cameras.

This enabled the controller to process biometric data for purposes ranging from providing interactive experiences to delivering targeted adverts to passing individuals

She said an LFR-enabled billboard could detect an “engaged” passer-by, capture an image of their face, and create a biometric template based on their age, sex, gender, ethnicity, race, clothing styles and brands as well as observed data such as dwell time.

Algorithms could then interpret this information to target adverts at them in real time while some systems could “remember” customers by capturing and storing the information to deliver adverts to them when they returned or at other locations.

“I am deeply concerned about the potential for LFR technology to be used inappropriately, excessively or even recklessly. When sensitive personal data is collected on a mass scale without people’s knowledge, choice or control, the impacts could be significant,” said Ms Denham.

“We should be able to take our children to a leisure complex, visit a shopping centre or tour a city to see the sights without having our biometric data collected and analysed with every step we take.

“Unlike CCTV, LFR and its algorithms can automatically identify who you are and infer sensitive details about you. It can be used to instantly profile you to serve up personalised adverts or match your image against known shoplifters as you do your weekly grocery shop.

“In future, there’s the potential to overlay CCTV cameras with LFR, and even to combine it with social media data or other “big data” systems – LFR is supercharged CCTV.”

Ms Denham said it was not her role to ban the technology but she said companies needed to ask themselves if LFR was necessary, proportionate to its purpose and whether there were alternatives not as intrusive.

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