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German firm uses facial recognition to bring personalized ads

The new facial recognition technology is tested by marketing company, Echion in 40 supermarkets and in 100 branches of Deutsche Post. The new system that includes a camera and a screen set up by the check-out in supermarkets, scans the customer’s face to determine the age and sex of the person. The company then plays ads tailored to certain demographics when enough people who fall into that target group are there.

Echion CEO Michael Kimmich told DW news:

It’s not rocket science. Echion believes that after the pilot is completed, we will be able to tell their clients exactly which target groups shop at “Real(supermarket),” for example, and thus tell them whether it makes sense to air their commercials on screens in this supermarket – or whether they should advertise somewhere else.

The new advertising strategy has raised eyebrows from privacy advocates over data protection and lack of transparency. Some have already filed complaints with authorities over the threat to privacy.

Sebastian Himstedt, spokesman for the German Foundation for Data Protection said:

We are a bit alarmed by this process. Customers haven’t explicitly consented to be scanned like this and they aren’t clearly alerted to what is going on. People who have seen a video surveillance sign don’t infer that their faces are being scanned. But this project spies on us and uses the information for consumerist purposes.

However, a spokesman for Deutsche Post, a partner in the study said that the data gathered by the camera is not saved anywhere and will be in the system for only 150 milliseconds.

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