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Facial Recognition: It’s Here, But Are We Ready for It?

Kiosks, in-store displays, websites – facial recognition software is popping up everywhere. Marketers and major brands are working together to capitalize on the untapped potential of such software, bringing our modern world ever closer to the world of Minority Report.

From Facebook to Adidas to Kraft and more, some of the biggest brands around are pushing to use recognition technology in innovative new ways.

For months now, Facebook has been using facial recognition to automatically detect the individual faces that appear in uploaded photos and assign names accordingly. Of course, being the first company out of the gate to make such software widely known to the public has put them on the receiving end of a number of privacy complaints.

As the L.A. Times points out, “privacy advocates worry the technology is one more way for companies to quietly gather data about people without their permission or even knowledge.” Could that be the case? Are the Facebook execs using the software as part of a malicious ploy to invade our personal space for the sake of their own personal gain? Probably not. Realistically, facial recognition software just makes the photo-sharing process a more seamless experience for users.

Somewhat different, however, is the use of such technology by major retail brands – notably, Adidas and Kraft Foods – who apparently are working to implement it as a means to drive sales. According to Brandchannel, “are considering using the technology in stores to help consumers make purchase decisions, with software being developed by Intel and other tech companies.”

Adidas reportedly has plans to use “facial recognition [systems] in street hoardings and on shopping centre screens to estimate a shopper’s age, gender and tastes.” Naturally, they’ll be better able to generate product suggestions based on those estimations.

Similarly, Kraft is in talks to make its new meal-recommendation kiosk a prominent fixture in grocery stores. “So, when [a customer] passes by the kiosk, the digital signage, equipped with a freaky sort of Anonymous Video Analytics technology, zooms in on his or her face and instantly determines gender and age group to guess what products might exert some allure.”

Are Adidas and Kraft ushering in a new era of expedience for shoppers, or are they crossing the privacy line for the sake of increasing sales? When we have the chance to see the tech in action, we’ll likely be able to decide for ourselves.

Perhaps the best example of a company’s usage of the software is by the UK brand Frijj, which uses facial recognition to generate consumer engagement on its website and to elicit humorous results:


Innovative? Absolutely. Invasive? Maybe a little bit. If anything, Frijj’s use of facial recognition is proof that the software can be used in inventive ways without being off-putting.

Brands small and large will likely be on the bandwagon soon enough, but the court is still in session on whether or not this new approach to marketing is a beneficial one. As is usually the case, it all depends on the public’s reaction – and if the reaction to Facebook’s current usage of the technology is any indication, facial recognition may very well prove to be a short-lived experiment for marketers.

Passersby in grocery stores and retail outlets may not be so eager to interact with the kiosks and displays featuring the software. They may ultimately see it as more of a gimmick than an actual shopping aid.

If anything though, it’s certainly a forward-thinking approach, and there’s always something to be said for that.

What are your thoughts on facial recognition? Will it be the next big thing, or is far too invasive? Let us know in the comments!

Image source: warrenski



Joseph Giorgi

Joseph is the head of the Media Team at Quality Logo Products. He's a video specialist, blogger, perfectionist, and all-around likeable guy. When he's not busy focusing on the nitty-gritty details of his written and visual work, he's normally listening to bad 80s music and scouring the internet for useless information on useless subjects. You can also connect with Joe on Google+.

Comments

  1. Scooby

    So what you walk up to the Kraft FRS and it determines that you’re overweight and suggests mac and cheese, and a skinny cow for desert? Looks like I know what my diet will be.

    ha-ha!

    • Joseph Giorgi

      Hah. That’s actually a valid point. The machine’s recommendations could potentially upset shoppers. Hope Kraft mixes the recommendations up a bit.

  2. Tony Promo

    It’s big brother (not the TV show). I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but things like this do nothing but desensitize people to having their constitutional right to privacy invaded. Things like “checking in” on Facebook, RFID chips in pets, and now this, are a very, very slippery slope. I don’t need face recognition technology for Kraft to tell me I should buy Mac and Cheese… I can make those tough decisions at Jewel just fine on my own, thank you.

    • Joseph Giorgi

      Grocery shopping is simple enough, I suppose. Privacy issues aside, Kraft’s kiosk does seem like an example of technology for the sake of technology. Will their machine help shoppers? Maybe. But is it entirely necessary? Probably not.

  3. Peemo

    This is ridiculously creepy!

  4. Mandy Kilinskis

    Excellent post, Joe!

    1. Frijj needs to jump the pond and start selling what I imagine to be the epitome of milkshakes.

    2. I don’t feel like my privacy is being invaded with facial recognition software. However, I just don’t see how it can be accurate. So a computer looks at me and determines what kinds of shoes I like? I doubt it. They’ll probably tell me to try a whole arsenal of shoes that are not my taste. There’s a reason that sales associates in shoe stores ask, “What style shoes do you like?” immediately upon arrival. Same with Kraft. You don’t know what food I like. You’re going to offer me a recipe with broccoli and I will just narrow my eyes and curse.

    3. Facial recognition is going to have to get a heck of a lot smarter to compete with good ol’ fashioned human intuition. If anything, I would see more value in an interactive kiosk that allows you to answer a few questions before it gives you recommendations.

    • Rachel

      Mandy, I especially agree with you about number 2–I don’t think facial recognition software can accurately predict my tastes. Recommendations based off past purchases or ratings, like what Amazon and Netflix do, make a lot more sense to me. So I guess more like what you suggest in your third point … though I’m not sure I’d have the patience to answer questions at a kiosk while I’m shopping. :)

      • Amanda

        I agree with you Rachel. I don’t think technology like this is necessary. If things like this really catch on–we’re going to see an even bigger decline in available jobs. Technology/face recognition/kiosks will begin replacing human jobs. =( It’s sad. I refuse to use the self check out lines at stores because it takes away jobs. Just like if they add these to grocery stores and shoes stores, etc. it will limit the amount of people walking around asking if they can help you find something. Sad that all this technology is starting to replace human interaction.

    • Joseph Giorgi

      Excellent points! And I agree — nothing will come close (not in THIS century, anyway) to interacting with a real person when it comes to making a purchasing decision. Machines may have the upper hand in terms of product suggestions, but like you said, the intuition of a thoughtful and knowledgeable salesperson is something that can’t be imitated.

  5. JPorretto

    This all sounds good and creepy, but is there any AI that is 100% accurate? No. It’s going to guess Men are Women, Women are men, Adults are children, Thin people are fat, etc. There seems to be the potential to anger more people than to actually add to sales.

    • Joseph Giorgi

      There are always going to be a few kinks to iron out with the release of any new software or piece of tech, that’s for sure. I just think it’s interesting that we’re seeing this kind of thing so soon. Companies are obviously putting a lot of money and effort into facial recognition even though there’s virtually no evidence to suggest that it’ll pay off.

      Judging by the videos and the fairly limited amount of information available on the subject, my guess is that you’re right: people are likely just going to shrug this technology off as a gimmick — at first, that is. I’m anxious to see how it develops in the decades to come though.

  6. Jen

    I don’t think it’s really that invasive to have the facial recognition on FB and other web sites. Like you said Joe, it’s convenient for tagging pictures, but having it in grocery stores is another story. It’s just weird. I don’t look forward to the day a kiosk actually talks to me about what I should buy for dinner when I walk past it.

    Great post Joe, very interesting indeed!

    • Joseph Giorgi

      Thanks! :)

      Yeah, I’m not sure how enthusiastic I’d be about using an interactive kiosk to get dinner recommendations when I could just walk a little further down the aisle and decide for myself in half the time.

    • Amanda

      I agree with you too Jen. I don’t really think it’s invasive–just weird, unnecessary, and an overload of technology. The FB thing I can understand, but in stores is nuts. I would be mad if I was looking at the Kraft items in a store and they assumed I had kids because I’m a female in my twenties. Mac n cheese is not just for kids! lol

  7. amy

    Holy cow, I had no idea companies were considering using facial recognition to boost sales! Like Tony Promo said, “I don’t need face recognition technology for Kraft to tell me I should buy Mac and Cheese… I can make those tough decisions at Jewel just fine on my own, thank you.” I completely agree! While I can appreciate that maybe they could suggest some product that I may like based on past purchases, I don’t want some computer talking to me in a creepy robot voice telling me I should consider buying their new Velveeta Cheesy Skillets. No thank you!

    Another awesome and thought-provoking post Joe! Great job!

    • Joseph Giorgi

      Thanks! :D

      I hate to admit it, but if a machine told me that I should buy Velveeta, I’d most likely just go ahead and buy Velveeta. Then again, I’m kind of a Velveeta addict — and I probably would’ve bought it during my trip anyway. As far as most other recommendations go though, I probably wouldn’t listen. Haha.

  8. Tony Promo

    I don’t see how people don’t think this is invasive! First we found out that you can be tracked via satellite from your cell phone, whether it’s on or off. Not a big deal unless you have something to hide, right? Then, because it’s “cool”, you can now “check in” or play Foursquare on Facebook so people know your every move. Now we have RFID chips in pets in case they get lost, and facial recognition software in Kraft kiosks at Jewel. So… when you all have kids, and the doctor asks if you want your child to have an implant so “you” can track him at all times, what are you going to say? From what I’ve seen and to my dismay, many people will probably welcome the idea with open arms. We’ve been desensitized in this manner for YEARS. Hell, the Patriot Act got overwhelming support (because nobody read it and it sounded nice) and it allows the government to tap your phone without a warrant, and arrest and detain you for as long as they want without Mirandizing you. Why? Because they sold it to us, just like Kraft and whoever else is selling this stupid gimmick to people who buy…. one dollar boxes of cheap food!?!? Seriously?

    I’m sorry, but if people think that facial recognition software ISN’T an invasion of privacy, then you should probably take a step back, read the Bill of Rights, and then imagine what it’s going to be like 20 years from now. If you want to get an implant in your pointer finger that’s linked up to your Chase checking account just so it’s “easier” and more “convenient” at the check-out line, be my guest, but you’ve been sold hook, line, and sinker into relinquishing your God-given rights per the U.S. Constitution (says the Socialist).

    • Joseph Giorgi

      There’s been plenty of legal talk surrounding Facebook since they opted to roll out facial recognition as part of their photo-sharing service. The debate is still raging online as to whether the feature crosses the line or not. Actually, I think users are now allowed to opt out of it — though I may be wrong about that. Check out this article:

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2011/aug/03/facebook-facial-recognition-privacy-germany

      As far as the new approaches by Kraft and Adidas and whatnot — I’d imagine that they’ll be met with similar backlash (though to a lesser extent) once the majority of the public has the chance to see them in action.

      And Google actually had to cancel its plans to implement facial recognition software in a new line of smartphones because of the privacy issues they would have faced. If Google can’t bring it to the mainstream, it’s doubtful that anyone can.

      At the end of the day, the tech probably won’t catch on anytime soon. Most people aren’t stupid. No one wants companies to cross the line when it comes to this kind of thing. :)

  9. Kyle

    Your spot-on with the Minority Report comparison, Joe. Stuff like this is fascinating, yet a bit unsettling at the same time. Technology is no doubt making our every day life easier, but do we really need facial recognition for dinner recommendations?

    At this point it seems a bit gimmicky, but it’s only a matter of time before the technology advances to the point where TSA requires facial scans before boarding planes. I have no doubt that this technology will provide us with new opportunities, but it’s also at the expense of our privacy.

    On the topic of Minority Report-esque technology… I heard today that there are contact lenses with embedded LED displays currently in development. Between this blog post and LED contacts I think my brain is on overload with what the future of technology has in store for us. :P

    Fantastic post, Joe. I’m a sucker for these kinds of posts.

    • Joseph Giorgi

      Glad you enjoyed the post, Kyle. I too am a sucker for all things tech, and I’m as surprised to hear about LED displays in contacts as you are. That just sounds nuts. Of course, it sounds sorta cool at the same time. If the price is right, I’ll probably be one of the early adopters when they’re available.

  10. Jill Tooley

    I’m really, really, REALLY, intensely creeped out by this. Why do brands need to see my face to recommend products or services to me? Instead of stalking customers and violating their privacy, why don’t companies just ASK people what they like to buy? Why not go the route of Amazon and recommend related products based on things they’ve already purchased? Facial-recognition software is unnerving enough on Facebook, let alone when it’s done offline.

    I’m predicting that there’s going to be a surge in the population of acute agoraphobics if stuff like this becomes the norm. If I’m going to be scanned and analyzed by computers against my will every time I leave the house, then maybe I’ll just lock myself in and throw away the key… Maybe a bit of an exaggeration, but still!

    Nicely-written post, Joe. Thanks for giving me information on this inevitably forthcoming standard in technology and tracking! I like to be prepared!

    P.S. Strangely, I want to re-watch Minority Report now…

    • Joseph Giorgi

      It’s probably not the best idea for you to watch Minority Report if it’s going to turn you into an agoraphobic, Jill. ;)

      I’ll admit, this type of tech IS pretty creepy. And in all honesty, the public will probably end up thinking so too. Facial recognition may simply prove to be too much, too soon. Just look at the derision that Facebook brought on itself when it rolled out the feature a few months back. No company wants to be the subject of legal concerns. If this kind of software takes off, it’ll likely be in a very non-invasive form.

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