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article imageStore mannequins 'spy' on you while you shop

By Leigh Goessl     Nov 20, 2012 in Technology
Some retailers are using facial recognition in a unique way. They have installed mannequins that have a camera in the eye sockets that can watch your every move while you shop.
Smile, you're on camera. This is a phrase that is becoming the norm in today's tech-centric society. From general surveillance to collecting data through facial recognition, cameras are everywhere. Now Benetton has set up mannequins in its stores that can "see" you.
What is "EyeSee"?
According to Mashable, some stores have installed $5,000 bionic mannequins from Almax, an Italian company that specializes in "mannequins and display forms" according to its website.
These mannequins have a technology called "EyeSee", which is a camera that has facial recognition software; the camera is embedded in the mannequin's eye socket. Here's how it works [translated from the Almax website by Google Translate]:
1. Inside the pupil of the dummy there is a camera that is connected to a special software.
2 is a face recognition software, able to collect statistical data of the person who is passing in front of the manikin.
3 The software will show the customer the data that can be processed and used to understand the reactions of passers-by in front of the windows with the clothes on display.
Screen shots of mannequins taken from Almax website
Screen shots of mannequins taken from Almax website
Almax
How "EyeSee" serves retailers
Bloomberg reported these mannequins are believed to boost sales in stores that use them. The reasoning is that more information can be gathered at the eye level rather than from overhead cameras; the technology appears to be marketed at luxury markets.
The mannequins cost $5,000 (4,000 Euros) and are capable of capturing "the age, gender and race of passers-by", reported Bloomberg.
“Any software that can help profile people while keeping their identities anonymous is fantastic,” said Uché Okonkwo, executive director of consultant Luxe Corp., reported Bloomberg. It “could really enhance the shopping experience, the product assortment, and help brands better understand their customers.”
Privacy concerns
Some consumer groups are concerned about the privacy implications of these mannequins watching consumers' every move. Almax's CEO, Max Catanese noted the mannequins do not store images, but collect the data. "Retailers can use it as long as they have a closed-circuit television license," reported Bloomberg. It appears identities are not stored with the images.
Catanese told MailOnline via an emailed statement, "Let’s say I pass in front of the mannequin. Nobody will know that “Max Catanese” passed in front of it. [For instance] The retailer will have the information that a male adult Caucasian passed in front of the mannequin at 6:25pm and spent 3 minutes in front of it. No sensible/private data, nor image is collected."
A screen shot from Almax website of an EyeSee Mannequin
A screen shot from Almax website of an EyeSee Mannequin
Almax
Whether or not this changes in the future, however, remains to be seen. Privacy advocates are concerned with this type of technology use.
Almax is also reportedly considering giving mannequins "ears" too; meaning they could "hear" and pick up words consumers say while looking at merchandise. Also under consideration is adding small screens to the mannequins that would personalize shoppers' experiences by presenting them with custom-designed information.
Another problem consumer groups have is whether or not consumers will know they are being watched for commercial gain, which can also include no opportunity to "opt out" (according to The Verge, Catanese acknowledged stores could design/program the mannequin to allow customers to share more information and "opt in" in exchange for special deals).
"The fact that the cameras are hidden suggests that shops are fully aware that many customers would object to this kind of monitoring," said Emma Carr, deputy director of civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, according to MailOnline. "It is not only essential that customers are fully informed that they are being watched, but that they also have real choice of service and on what terms it is offered."
"If you go on Facebook, before you start the registration process, you can see exactly what information they are going to collect and what they’re going to do with it," Christopher Mesnooh, a lawyer at Paris-based Field Fisher Waterhouse, told Bloomberg. "If you’re walking into a store, where’s the choice?"
Where can "EyeSee" be found?
The "seeing" mannequins have been on the market for about a year now and are currently in shops in four countries, including the U.S. At this time it is unclear what other retailers may be using these mannequins as Almax cites confidentiality agreements, but it was noted that five companies, located in three European countries and one in the U.S., are using "a few dozen" with more on order.
More about almax, eyesee, Facial recognition, facial recognition technology, benetton
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