CJ Column


Trends in Advertising Technology: Face Recognition

As technology goes, so goes advertising. This is the second article of a three-part series that tracks trends in advertising technology.

Find yourself at a busy mall, bus stop or airport in a large city and chances are your picture is being taken. It's not just Big Brother who is watching, but also a large army of advertisers who want to make a beeline from your face to your wallet using face recognition technology.

Once the exclusive realm of sci-fi and high-tech police operations, face recognition is fast becoming indispensable to effective digital signage and other marketing tools. Rather than displaying static or randomly generated images to passersby in a hit-or-miss attempt to generate sales, advertisers can now selectively show ads based on the gender, age, attention level and even mood of the person near the signage. On one hand, that's good: men needn't be bothered by come-ons for the latest designer nail polish while women can be spared yet another shaving ad. And if you're looking a little wiped out, a display beckoning you to tropical shores might be just the thing to get you contemplating that long overdue vacation.

Unlike face detection, which merely identifies if a subject is a face or non-face, face recognition (or facial recognition) goes beyond this, distinguishing with uncanny accuracy not only faces, but different types of faces. With this technology in place, advertisers have a better clue as to who the viewer is and can display content accordingly.

But privacy issues have some worried about how their photo information, collected in mere seconds, is being handled beyond its intended use. Using off-the-shelf software, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University discovered that a third of participants who volunteered to be photographed for a study could be identified by comparing their photos on Facebook. In addition, personal interests and partial Social Security numbers of some students were also uncovered. Privacy concerns also convinced Google to cancel a project that would have allowed people to photograph someone with their smartphone, then search online for other photos of the person. Said a Google exec: "We built that technology and we withheld it [because] of the fact that people could use this stuff in a very, very bad way, as well as in a good way."

Even Facebook has come under criticism for "Tag Suggestions," which recognizes faces, then suggests tags for them that friends can add to images. You can opt out of this but it is on by default and, as Facebook's recent acquisition of face recognition technology firm Face.com suggests, the company may be poised to beef up use of this technology.

But whether one thinks it cool or creepy, use of face recognition technology is here to stay. In Las Vegas, a hotel and casino are using "smart" billboards to customize messages for restaurants, bars and other attractions. In London, a dynamic billboard used to raise awareness about women's choices regarding career, education and spouses first scans your face, then plays a gender-specific message: Women can view a 40-second video about girls being denied basic choices while men are only shown statistics about the problem.

Beyond digital signage, some enterprising bars in the US are using technology called SceneTap to collect the age and gender of patrons, then displaying the information in real-time on a website accessible by PC or mobile app. Viewers can see how busy a bar is, the percentage of men to women and average age. (Definitely the answer to the age-old question about where to hang on a Saturday night.) Even vending machines are beginning to use face recognition. As you walk up to intelligent new drinks dispensers in Tokyo, a selection of recommended beverages is displayed on a 47-inch touch-screen monitor. The machines base their suggestions on not only age and gender, but also time of day and temperature.

Japanese articles may not fully reflect English content.





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