– Bionic Mannequins Spy on Shoppers to Boost Luxury Sales (Bloomberg, Nov 21, 2012):
Fashion brands are deploying mannequins equipped with technology used to identify criminals at airports to watch over shoppers in their stores. Retailers are introducing the EyeSee, sold by Italian mannequin maker Almax SpA, to glean data on customers much as online merchants are able to do.
Five companies are using a total of “a few dozen” of the mannequins with orders for at least that many more, Almax Chief Executive Officer Max Catanese said. The 4,000-euro ($5,130) device has spurred shops to adjust window displays, store layouts and promotions to keep consumers walking in the door and spending.
The EyeSee looks ordinary enough on the outside, with its slender polystyrene frame, blank face and improbable pose. Inside, it’s no dummy. A camera embedded in one eye feeds data into facial-recognition software like that used by police. It logs the age, gender, and race of passers-by.
– EyeSee facial recognition cameras deployed in mannequins record age, gender and race of customers (EndThe Lie, Nov 21, 2012):
As unbelievable as it sounds, facial recognition technology is now being deployed in mannequins. While this might sound completely insane, it’s not all that surprising given the rise of facial recognition systems capable of scanning 36 million faces per second, the FBI giving out facial recognition software to police and rolling out a $1 billion facial recognition system across the United States, not to mention drone-based facial recognition along with behavioral recognition and much more.
Indeed, the rise of this type of technology has become a global issue, evidenced by a facial recognition-based border control system in the Netherlands that is slated to process the one millionth passenger by the end of the year.
According to Bloomberg, the EyeSee system is sold by the Italian mannequin maker Almax SpA and is used to “glean data on customers much as online merchants are able to do.”
While this might seem innocuous enough, recently it was shown that the massive data mining industry mentioned in the above quote regularly sells the personal information they gather to third parties.
Almax Chief Executive Officer Max Cantanese told Bloomberg that as of now five companies are using a total of “a few dozen” of their mannequins and there are already orders for at least that many more with each mannequin costing around $5,130.
While many might claim this is wonderful as it will help better serve customers, some aren’t quite as excited by it.
“It’s spooky,” said Luca Solca, the head of luxury goods research at Exane BNP Paribas in London, England. “You wouldn’t expect a mannequin to be observing you.”
It’s especially concerning since it looks completely like an ordinary mannequin to the casual observer, completely hiding the technology within.
“A camera embedded in one eye feeds data into facial-recognition software like that used by police,” writes Andrew Roberts for Bloomberg. “It logs the age, gender, and race of passers-by.”
Solca is likely in the minority when it comes to this technology, as Uché Okonkwo, executive director of consultant Luxe Corp seemed quite excited by it.
“Any software that can help profile people while keeping their identities anonymous is fantastic,” said Okonkwo.
This technology “could really enhance the shopping experience, the product assortment, and help brands better understand their customers,” he added.
Bloomberg points out that similar technology is already deployed by some stores via overhead security cameras, but Almax claims that their technology is far superior since it operates at eye level and “invites customer attention.”
The mannequins, which have only been available for purchase since December of last year, are already being sued by stores in three European countries along with the United States.
The stores actually using these mannequins will, at least for now, remain a mystery since Cantanese refused to name clients, citing confidentiality agreements.
Some are raising both legal and ethical concerns surrounding the use of this type of facial recognition and profiling technology.
“Watching people solely for commercial gain may break the rules and could be viewed as gathering personal data without consent,” writes Bloomberg, citing Christopher Mesnooh, a partner at law firm Field Fisher Waterhouse in Paris.
“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,” Mesnooh said to Bloomberg. “If you’re walking into a store, where’s the choice?”
I can already see the arguments that would be used to counter Mesnooh’s quite valid point. One such argument will likely be the same type of argument used by those who promote the Transportation Security Administration’s invasive procedures: if you don’t like it, either don’t use it or shut up.
According to Cantanese, they have yet to run into any problems since, at least according to the company selling the device, all that is required is a CCTV license.
Perhaps even more disturbing than the technology already deployed in the EyeSee mannequins is the prospect of “technology that recognizes words to allow retailers to eavesdrop on what shoppers say about the mannequin’s attire,” which is already being tested by Almax, according to Bloomberg.
What is your take on this type of technology? Is it too invasive or simply a great way to personalize a shopping experience and streamline business practices? Let us know in the comments section of this post.