Tesco to scan your face to better tailor advertisements to you

Filed Under: Featured, Privacy

Tesco. Image courtesy of JuliusKielaitis / Shutterstock.Tesco, the UK's largest supermarket chain, is set to install facial recognition technology in all 450 of its petrol station forecourts.

The face-scanning technology will be used to serve tailored advertisements to an estimated weekly audience of five million adults.

The company will install OptimEyes screens, developed by Lord Alan Sugar's Amscreen, in a five year deal according to The Grocer.

Amscreen says that the cameras, placed at the tills, are capable of collecting the following data:

  • Number of possible viewers (those people within the close vicinity of the screen)
  • Number of actual viewers (the true audience)
  • Gender (male/female)
  • Age class (with the age brackets being as follows):
    • Child : 0- 15 years old
    • Young adult: 15 – 35
    • Adult: 35 – 65
    • Senior: 65+

The system uses several different indicators to determine the sex and age of the customer. For instance, long hair would most likely indicate that the person in front of the camera was female but such an assumption could lead to several false positives. Therefore other key traits are accounted for in order to make a final decision.

Amscreen say the system has a detection rate of greater than 98% and that identification typically takes less than 0.2 seconds.

Once the system has identified the demographic group in front of the till it will then play suitable adverts of up to 10 seconds in length on a 100-second loop. I can already imagine large groups of party-goers swaying around at 2 am and being served adverts for coffee to help with their hangovers the next morning!

Simon Sugar, the chief executive of Amscreen and son of Lord Sugar, believes companies have a right not only to know how many people are viewing their adverts but also to know who they are:

It is time for a step-change in advertising – brands deserve to know not just an estimation of how many eyeballs are viewing their adverts, but who they are too.

Yes it's like something out of Minority Report, but this could change the face of British retail and our plans are to expand the screens into as many supermarkets as possible.

Peter Cattell, category director for Tesco petrol stations, also seems to see nothing but benefits with OptimEyes, saying:

The ability to tailor content based on time and location means it can be extremely useful and timely for our customers.

Most Naked Security readers already wake each morning to a world in which they are tracked all day long - CCTV cameras are everywhere; designed to 'protect us' from the bad guys and thus ensure that we can maintain the standard of life and 'freedom' we have now.

The 21st century is a period of time like no other: information is the new currency and we happily give it away to social media moguls, e-commerce web sites and just about anyone who asks, nicely or not.

Do we need to be far more choosy about the information we give out and somewhat more discerning about whom we give it to? Or am I, perhaps, a little paranoid?

I asked Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch, for his views on the need for businesses to boost their profits versus the rights of their customers to retain a degree of privacy. In reply, he said:

There are two fundamental problems here; not least the fact that the only way you can ensure your face is not scanned is to not go into the shop. Firstly, should we really be increasing the amount of surveillance we’re under so some companies can sell more advertising? Secondly, the technology isn’t going to stay the same and always be used in the same way.

As businesses like Google collect vast amounts of data about us online and can target us with very specific adverts, the race is on to catch up tracking our offline lives. Loyalty cards were the start of the process, but as the race for data intensifies, the surveillance is becoming more intensive.

This won’t stop at age and gender – the long game is about identifying individuals, and facial recognition technology is getting close to enabling them to do it.

Given the number of CCTV cameras across Britain that could be adapted to use this technology, the potential to track people in real-time is huge. Equally, the commercial temptation to expand the data being collected is clear – knowing which other shops someone goes in for example.

Pickles believes that the only way that such systems can be ethically employed is if consumers have the ability to opt into having their image scanned, rather than having no choice in the matter.

Are you happy to be scanned and advertised to by this technology or do you think it is yet another erosion of what little privacy we have left in society today? Let us know by leaving a comment below.


Image of Tesco courtesy of JuliusKielaitis / Shutterstock.com.

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20 Responses to Tesco to scan your face to better tailor advertisements to you

  1. Socrates · 320 days ago

    Is there a face saving way to opt out of this invasion of privacy and decency?

  2. guest · 320 days ago

    It is definitely an erosion of what little privacy we have left!!

  3. ahh well just means I leave my motorbike crash helmet on in store

  4. JRD · 320 days ago

    It's gonna piss off some transgender customers who get misgendered by a freaking advertising app.

  5. MonicaC · 320 days ago

    I would feel sorry for anyone targeting me for advertisements. I buy generic, dent-and-bent stores, and co-ops.

  6. Alan · 319 days ago

    Other than Simon Sugar's assertion that advertisers have the "right" to know who's viewing their ads which is objectionable rubbish and raises concerns about what the next steps might I have no worries about the data being collected as long as the images themselves aren't stored along with the data.

    I can't see it being good value for money for Tesco though.

    • Mick A · 319 days ago

      Completely agree Alan.

      The strength of your argument (Sugar's, not yours) on whether companies have a 'right' to invading the privacy of everyone, I would guess is directly proportional to whether this becoming reality will make you insanely richer than you already are. I personally have zero trust in anyone's hollow claims that the images themselves aren't stored along with the data. What other data is there? Oh, hold on - your registration number! See a pattern emerging?

  7. Del · 319 days ago

    Looks like burqas are in fashion

  8. Randy · 319 days ago

    "Simon Sugar believes companies have a right not only to know how many people are viewing their adverts but also to know who they are:"
    I think there's a good future for him at the NSA. He's just their kind of guy.

  9. Paul · 319 days ago

    Fully agree with Alan - people have rights, not companies (not even States).

  10. I no longer shop at the store concerned, opting for a different supermarket closer to my work. However, I am quite sure that other's will follow if it proves successful for the company concerned.

    As for being value for money for them, I am pretty sure they've done some very interesting arithmetic.

  11. victor · 319 days ago

    I wont be filling up at Tesco's. There are plenty of other filling stations to go to

  12. Backend Tragedy · 319 days ago

    Hell, imagine if everywhere you go you get hammered with customised adverts for Anusol!

  13. Riff · 319 days ago

    DItto. I shan't go there.

  14. P I 1984 · 319 days ago

    P I 1984

    Tesco have NO right nor does anyone else to impose there ideas on people who buy (spend Money) in the stores unless a contract is entered into, I will use my rights to avoid such arrogant abuse of privacy.

  15. John · 319 days ago

    Gosh, I will get bombarded with ads for stair lifts, mobility scooters, wheel chairs, care homes and porridge. Will I also have to see the ads for customers ahead of me? Might be for porn, gambling, fast foods.......

  16. Andy · 319 days ago

    This should not be allowed to happen. It is bad enough with the NSA obtaing information about individuals. This just opens us, the public, to abusive mailing and I don't want my post box filled with Junk Mail.

  17. Carl · 318 days ago

    Perfect remedy - a roll of masking tape in your pocket. If confronted by one of these devices, tape over its camera lens. No physical harm and no more intrusion. Clearly Sugar Minor's dad taught him to see others as mere chattels, to use and abuse - the snivelling, arrogant, spoilt git. Advertisers have no "right" to know who sees their adverts. His advertising is a deliberate, unsought intrusion upon the public, and being an intruder give no "right" to know upon whom you are intruding.

  18. They can poke that where the sun don't shine.
    No more Tesco shopping then

  19. Alex · 285 days ago

    I wish everyone would stop banging the same old drum... It's rather predictable and you are incorrect... Typically images don't get stored and the focus is on 'face' recognition, and not the identification of an individual 'person' by name. So you are safe and not being tracked. The upside is you get served advertising in a more relevant way, which has to be better than not.

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About the author

Lee Munson is the founder of Security FAQs, a social media manager with BH Consulting and a blogger with a huge passion for information security.