Digital advertising may be on the verge of a new era. Recent developments in face-tracking technology seem to have made personal, Minority Report-esque advertising possible and, at least to some extent, probable in the near future.

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Companies such as TruMedia Technologies are now able to offer advertisers digital cameras that identify and keep track of the profiles of ad viewers. These cameras are hidden within the advertisement, enabling varying advertisements based on the demographics of the viewers. According to an Associated Press article released on Friday, the technology can detect a viewer’s age range and gender with up to 90 percent accuracy. The development of this face-tracking technology is, of course, very exciting for advertisers and promises to increase the effectiveness of their marketing campaigns. One Chicago-area advertising consultant predicts “a lot of movement toward it by the end of this year in the top 10 markets.”

Despite its obvious benefits for advertisers, the concept of face recognition in advertising is somewhat controversial. First, there are some basic moral objections to profiling and categorizing people based only on a camera’s detection of their facial features. Moreover, the filming of and gathering information about ad viewers, especially without their knowledge, is worrisome to civil liberties advocates as an erosion of consumers’ privacy. TruMedia has responded to these concerns by promising that no identifying information about individuals is recorded or will ever be handed over to law enforcement authorities or anyone else.

So, should we be worried about privacy invasion on our next mall shopping spree? As of now, probably not– it seems that the new face-tracking technology is not (and may not even yet have the capability of) collecting any personal or identifying information. Besides, these ads are being placed in areas where we already are being watched and recorded, i.e., by mall security surveillance cameras. There is, however, reason to be concerned about the kinds of things this technology may lead to in the future. No one can blame advertisers for taking advantage of available technology in order to maximize the results of their marketing efforts, but they must understand that there are limits, which they may be quickly approaching with the rise of face-tracking technology.

Maurie Donnelly

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