Facial recognition technology is ready for mainstream

Posted at 9:42 PM, Apr 01, 2012

Reporting by Nina Sparano and Richard J. Ortner

DENVER – From a simple expression to the color of your eyes, your face sets you apart.

And now that uniqueness is being tapped by facial recognition technology to tailor advertising directly to you. Privacy advocates say the new technology goes too far.

“Every time we’ve shown it to retailers and brands the comments are ‘Wow! You know, I never imagined this was even possible,’ and then it’s ready to go, production-worthy, I can buy it today,” says Intel Corporation representative Michelle Tinsley.

Intel is one company that has developed digital advertising displays that register someone’s age, gender, and even the distance between their eyes.

“From a consumer standpoint, you’re gonna see much more targeted content, and lots more benefits in terms of being able to send direct to my cell phone, you know, information about coupons, or what’s coming next from the brand,” Tinsley says. “From the brand’s standpoint, they get much more tangible data about who’s engaging with them, and how they can make that more effective.”

Bars and clubs are also using the technology. The Scenetap app, for example, registers the age and male to female ratio of nightclub patrons.

And while facial recognition is revolutionary, some worry about their images being captured and how they might be used.

“There are definitely some privacy concerns,” says Michaella Tour, a marketing professor at UNLV. “There’s the technical side of it, in other words, how we keep private information from getting into the wrong hands, being misused in an illegal or even unethical manner.

“We have the ability to track how many people are in a venue, the male to female ratio and the average age of everyone. And it’s all completely anonymous which is what makes it work in a public sense, we really go out of our way to ensure privacy.”

Facial recognition ads are only in a few locations so far, with corporations like Adidas, Kraft Foods and the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas trying it for test periods.

As for other companies and even governments, experts say it’s only a matter of time.