Facebook and Google aren’t the only companies with the ability to spy on you. Brick-and-mortar stores can too – thanks to some creepy technology.
It’s no secret some companies track your online browsing activities to figure out what you're interested in so they can serve you targeted ads that you're more likely to notice. Now some stores are employing a new breed of mannequins equipped with facial recognition technology, reports The Washington Post .
The Italian company Almax SpA sells a mannequin called the EyeSee that has a camera built into one of its eyes that ports data into facial recognition software that can tell the age, gender and race of people walking by.
With such data, retailers can pivot store layouts, displays and promotions to better market to whatever demographic is checking out a certain area. Fashion retailer Benetton is reportedly investing in the EyeSee, which costs more than $5,000. (Update: Since this story was published, The Benetton Group contacted us with a statement that the original Bloomberg report was in error. Benetton “does not employ any mannequins—or, for that matter, anything else—with the technology described in various media reports that circulated in the last days,” the fashion company told us.
If the thought of mannequins “seeing” you is a troubling thought, you might as well get used to the idea. Online companies such as Facebook, Google and Apple have been using the technology for a while to identify people in photos.
Not only that, the FBI has started rolling out its $1 billion biometric Next Generation Identification (NGI) system, a nationwide database of mug shots, iris scans, DNA samples, voice recordings, palm prints, and other biometrics collected from more than 100 million Americans and intended to help identify and catch criminals.
The FBI has been piloting the program with several states and by the time it’s fully deployed in 2014 it will have at its fingertips a facial recognition database that includes at least 12 million photos of people’s faces.
It’s a touchy subject.
Facebook, when rolling out its facial recognition feature in mid-2011, said it would help users tag photos of friends and family members. Privacy groups complained that the company was collecting new personal data without asking users for permission.
The use of facial recognition by Web companies, including Facebook, and government agencies has raised concerns from privacy advocates and some lawmakers. In July, U.S. Sen. Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, said that legislation may be needed to limit the way various entities use the technology.
This article was updated on December 3 to clarify that Benetton Group is not a user of this technology.