Regardless of warnings by privacy experts, or even readers who have just discovered 1984, the latest examples of companies using facial recognition software to recognize, identify, and market to various consumers are pretty darn entertaining. In turn, consumers seem far less concerned with the implications of the software, as well as far more likely to agree to allow the marketer access to their faces.
With Nike’s Free Face site for example, users who accept a link to Nike’s facial recognition software can contort their faces in various, odd, and funny ways. In response, an image of the Free shoe, Nike’s latest innovation with an incredibly flexible sole, twists and turns in mimicry. If a user raises up one side of his face, the shoe twists that way as well. For the Virgin Mobile site, all users have to do is blink. That simple movement prompts the screen to advance to a new cut, from one of 25 films. Thus with “Blinkwashing,” users can receive entertaining images, in up to 2 million different combinations.
The combinations are fewer but the (pretend) stakes are higher in the software designed to promote Cinemax’s thriller series, Hunted. Because that series focuses on espionage, the software enables viewers to test their own spy skills: It exposes them to various images that seemingly should provoke some emotional responses. Then it challenges them to maintain a “poker face,” to see if they could hold up in such a situation.
In these examples, anyone who agreed to expose themselves to the software could participate in the fun. But the charity organization Plan UK used its facial recognition tools to target women exclusively. In screens posted in bus stops throughout London, the software initially scans faces to identify female passengers, then runs content designed specifically to appeal to women. Men would see different content; the messages for women focused on the persistent gender discrimination and lack of opportunities that affect women around the world.
A somewhat less altruistic goal is sought by the “seeing” mannequins created by Almax. In addition to displaying clothing for sale, the retail recognizers feature built-in cameras that enable stores to identify the demographics of the people walking by. Thus they can determine if a particular department is attracting more young shoppers, or if a particular sweater on a mannequin seems to grab the attention of people of a certain ethnicity.
In most of these examples, the software requires users to opt in and agree to allow their faces to be scanned, before the functionality can be adopted. But that isn’t the case for all uses of facial recognition software. This is the line at which fun entertainment might become an unpleasant invasion of privacy.
Source: Ann-Christine Diaz, “Facial Recognition Software Makes Marketers a Fun Big Brother,” Advertising Age, September 18, 2013