Will Facial Recognition Ads End Privacy?

Check-In with Your Face from redpepper.

There’s a new attack on privacy: Facial recognition-driven advertising.

Facial recognition marketing uses cameras in stores and kiosks to take an impression of your face. It then estimates your gender and age, and serves you ads that are most likely to appeal to your demographic.

For example, a camera at a train station diorama senses you are a young man in his twenties, and serves you an ad for Axe soap. A young woman of the same age might be shown an ad for Crest Whitestrips.

It’s one thing to let others own your online social data. It’s another to surrender the physical whereabouts of your own face.

Yet, that’s where we are heading with the widespread movement towards facial recognition ads throughout the world.

Even set-top boxes at home can use facial recognition technology to serve different viewers targeted ads.

Facedeals is going a step further. This service matches your physical image at a store or location against your social profile pictures via the Facebook API, and then serving you specific social deals on site.

Privacy’s Last Stand?

Face of the desert
Image by chromik

It’s no secret that the current era of social check-ins and big data mining infringes upon traditional privacy norms. But at least you had the option of going dark to maintain some sense of individuality.

That physical separation from big-data driven marketing ends when facial recognition technology becomes widely adopted.

There will be no safe haven.

Google discontinued a facial recognition technology earlier this year that would allow anyone to snap photos of someone and then run a search online for personal information. The company felt the negative uses of its facial recognition technology outweighed the positive.

But for every Google there are ten companies and government agencies continue pursuing the technology. For example, consider the FBI’s facial recognition technology project.

To date most facial recognition technologies register impressions in a general way, seeking to determine age and gender. Then there are the Facetimes of the world.

As the drive to automate personal marketing continues, we will see more full facial recognition impression technologies come to market.

With it will come a dystopian Minority Report-esque world where anyone’s whereabouts can be tracked, analyzed and exploited.

In my mind, it spells an inevitable end to privacy as we know it… Unless you choose to live in the mountains unplugged in a forced hermitage.

What do you think of facial recognition ads?


  • @Geoff I think these ads could be interesting if used correctly. Key words there being “could” & “correctly.” I posted about this a few weeks ago (
    http://jeffesposito.com/2012/08/13/facebooks-facedeals-mccreepy-or-super-cool/) and got some interestingly hateful comments on YouTube.

    I also think that something like this could be interesting from a legal perspective as well in terms of proving alibis and things like that. It will also be interesting to see what happens in the courts with things like this.

    Creepy or not, we’re seeing bleeding edge innovation here and it is up to us as a collective people to determine if we should allow this and give up another sliver of the privacy pie.

    I’d be open to trying them out… hell couldn’t be worse than Klout, or could they?

    • I wish we had control over it. I don’t think commercialization will let us have that privilege, instead it will sacrifice all of our privacy in the name of profits and success. The truly wealthy of the future will be able to afford going off the grid.

      • I think there will be some intervention from the govt. Google shutting theirs down probably says something happened… maybe this is deemed too evil.

  • This is getting disturbing. I suppose we’re getting filmed most places we go anyway. But now it’s going to recognize who you are.

    I feel like the sci fi movies of the past are coming to fruition.

    And I do expect the government to possibly step in – but really just to take the technology and use it for their own needs.

    Cue the conspiracy theories :).

    • It certainly will require an adjustment. I sense that authorities and companies will probably let us fake our privacy until its time to expose us (legal issues) or we get hacked.

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  • Considering adding dark sunglasses and a beanie to all my online profile pictures now.

    I believe we should be able to easily opt of our of avoid individual tracking. Generic facial recognition, which attempts to estimate gender, age, etc is ok by me (and the mistakes will provide some welcome comic relief). But when it links it to ME, pulls together a profile based on other stores I have been in, what I have purchased and the fact my wife’s birthday is just around the corner, that’s too much.

    Time for the sunglasses and beanie.

    • Yeah, I’m with you. I think we have no control over this either. We really need to stay mindful of where we are and how we interact in public. Or just not care. I don’t know.

  • The problem is our level of consumerism.we drive innovation through our behaviour, so either stop shopping all the time or quit moaning when the environment adapts to your behaviour. We’ve not helpless victims of a evil big brother. We made this world

  • (1) Someone will make a lot of money with a technology that disrupts personal recognition
    (2) Certain business interests will fight to make such technology illegal, using “health” and freedom of expression as their rationale.

    I think it’s going to take a while for society to get its collective head around this stuff. Just like Big Data. Some think it’s the biggest threat ever. But 90% or more know nothing about it.

    • That to me is the biggest danger, that 90% don’t know what this stuff is. It leaves a lot of room for us to be blind-sided as a society.

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  • I think this new technology is very
    interesting; it could really be something that could be in every store in the
    near future. This technology is a bit scary though; with all the profiling and
    a computer knowing our moods and all our likes. But we might as well get used
    to it because no matter what we do we can’t get rid of it or do anything about
    it. Also with all of the new technology that is being invented this could be a
    little change to the future. I do feel like society is getting lazier, instead
    of thinking for ourselves we let a computer do all of it for us. It is bad
    enough that we have Google and the internet to search things faster instead of
    reading textbooks and actually learning but now we have a computer practically
    thinking for us and telling us what it thinks it is good for us when we are the
    only people that know ourselves the best. Just think, the next time you look at
    an advertisement, it could be looking right back at you!

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