Surveillance Society: Retail Giant Introduces ‘Minority Report’ Style Face Scanners

Company behind the invasive technology admits “Yes it’s like something out of Minority Report”


The technology which is being installed in all 450 of  Tesco’s petrol stations across the UK is managed by Lord Alan Sugar’s company, Amscreen, and is designed to scan faces to work out the age and sex of customers and then play adverts that might appeal to that particular customer.

It is estimated that each week five million people will be subjected to the big brother technology that’s been developed by Quividi, a Paris-based company.

Hidden cameras called OptimEyes, which are positioned at the till, scans the eyes of customers and adjusts adverts depending on the time and date, as well as monitoring customer purchases.

Simon Sugar, chief executive of Amscreen,admits:

“Yes it’s like something out of Minority Report, but this could change the face of British retail and our plans are to expand the screens into as many supermarkets as possible.

“Brands deserve to know not just an estimation of how many eyeballs are viewing their adverts, but who they are too”.

However none of the companies involved have done a privacy impact assessment as recommended by the Information Commissioner’s Office for systems where “new and intrusive technology is being used, or where private or sensitive information which was originally collected for a limited purpose is going to be reused in a new and unexpected way”.

So once these corporations have scanned our faces, what happens to that data?

Software developer and data analyst Adrian Short raised some interesting points:

“From their own perspective, Amscreen and Quividi depend on accurately classifying each person so that ads can be better targeted. So the temptation to retain the video footage and the encoded templates of each person’s facial features must have been hard for Amscreen resist – if indeed it has been.

“Keeping this data would provide the opportunity to refine every step of the classification process using big data techniques that would be useless on smaller sample training data sets. One of the reasons that cloud-based email services such as Gmail are so good at filtering out spam is that they get to chew continuously on huge, real-world datasets. With Amscreen’s system claiming an accuracy as low as 50% in some situations (women wearing baseball caps), there’s clearly much more work they’d like to do here. Retaining more data from the screens’ projected audience of five million UK adults would make that task much easier”.

Nick Pickles of Big Brother Watch has also raised concerns:

“Scanning customers as they walk through the store without customers ever giving permission for them to be scanned in that way… There’s a huge consent issue there.

“If people were told that every time they walked into a supermarket, or a doctor’s surgery or a law firm, that the CCTV camera in the corner is trying to find out who they are, I think that will have a huge impact on what buildings people go into.

“Given the number of CCTV cameras across Britain that could be adapted to use this technology, the potential to track people in real time is huge. Equally, the commercial temptation to expand the data being collected is clear — knowing which other shops someone goes in for example”.

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