Tesco have announced the roll-out of “OptimEyes”, a detection system at forecourts that presents advertisements tailored to the customers in the queue. The Guardian ran a piece the other day seeking to quell the “needless surveillance panic” that the Tesco announcement had begun to generate.
“OptimEyes” is not facial recognition (as we find it at a number of airport border controls) but facial detection. It is not attempting to match up personal information to specific customers. Rather, it is identifying features that suggest gender and age of a customer.
“Well that’s alright then” is the tone of the article. Then you notice that, at least on the online version, the article is in a stream identified as “in association with Salesforce Marketing Cloud“. This is a company specialising in marketing campaigns on Facebook and Twitter. The reassuring tone of the article has to be read as a contribution by insiders of the advertising industry.
It’s not alright – because it is one more step in our being made accustomed to surveillance technologies that are intent upon influencing our behaviour. OptimEyes is indeed not a facial recognition system. Nevertheless, it ought not be considered in isolation from the much wider cultural phenomenon that is mass surveillance.
Just as no one is an island, no surveillance technology stands apart from its context.