Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The (Privacy) Gap: Popular Retailers Using Secret Cameras to Capture Information About Customers - PrivacySpot.com

I don't get the Wall Street Journal (online or offline), though I'd like to read the article referred to in this post on privacyspot.com:

The (Privacy) Gap: Popular Retailers Using Secret Cameras to Capture Information About Customers | PrivacySpot.com - Privacy Law and Data Protection:

"The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) reports that many popular retailers are using secret cameras to record, and sophisticated software to analyze, information about what happens in their stores. The cameras, which are different than your vanilla anti-shoplifting camera, are often completely hidden. And the images they record aren't reviewed by a sleepy security guard; they are reviewed by sophisticated computers that can differentiate people on the basis of age, gender, and race. This information is then aggregated into reports about who is shopping, who is browsing, and how they are reacting to items in the store. Interestingly, the data is also matched with information about credit card transactions to determine how much people are spending.

Predictably, retailers swear that the technology is innocuous because no information about particular individuals is recorded; however, the computers can read facial expressions down to the level of "fast-eye movement, smiles and frowns." The data may not be utilized to collect information about individuals at this stage, but there are no guarantees. The bigger problem, of course, is that this technology further erodes the distinction between private and public life. Every time we step outside our front doors, we are consenting to be viewed by other people. But while I may not care that someone knows I visited The Gap (which uses the technology) yesterday, I might care a lot that my facial expressions were recorded and stored in a databse somewhere. Despite the fact that I am out in public, I carry expectations regarding a modicum of residual privacy that I will continue to enjoy. This includes not being photographed, analyzed, recorded, and data-mined in every store I visit. Unfortunately, people's expectations regarding privacy have not kept pace with recent advances in surveillance technology. This has led to the creation of a "privacy gap" that retailers are eager to exploit. Tellingly, the article notes that many stores do not want customers to know they utilize the technology. You see, it might make people feel "uncomfortable." No kidding."

This is the first I've heard of this technology, but it raises some interesting questions.

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