Has targeting technology gone too far?

Going head to head with international brands like Microsoft, Intel and NEC, Hong Kong government funded Applied Science and Technology Research Institute (ASTRI) will debut an outdoor ad in Causeway Bay – one that deciphers customers’ age, gender and emotions upon detection and prior to their stepping into the store.

Though ASTRI didn’t reply by the time of publication, these new camera-imbedded face-detection machines are reported to even capture passersby, and more importantly, VIPs, whose faces are partially covered.

These ads will also tally the number and demographic of people who stopped in front of ads to calculate their effectiveness.

The purpose of the technology is obvious: salespeople can immediately devise a tailor-made sales strategy before the customer even steps into a store; and in the case of a potential VIP, they can put on a wider smile.

Though the effectiveness of its ability to read expressions, gender and age is questionable (because can’t salespeople just tell with good old eyeballs without the help of a machine?), the new technology implies a greater privacy issue at risk: these ads with surveillance are like undeletable “cookies” we leave with these brands.

On Facebook, we can “unlike” or “unfollow” a page; on the internet, we can edit our privacy settings/ hide and delete cookies; but what this new technology means is that everything that we look at and everywhere we go is recorded and documented with no knowledge of where that information is going and when it will be deleted.

While I understand that for marketers, another portal to understand who their target audiences are and what they prefer is a definite asset; and all technologies are double-edged swords of convenience versus privacy, I am not sure whether these new face-recognition ads are a turn on or turn off when a big brother – like camera is blatantly monitor consumers’ every step.

(Cover image credit: terrykimura)