Minority Report-style advertising billboards shaped like huge eyes which analyze the facial characteristics of the viewer are expanding across England as the technology begins to mimic that seen in the dystopian thriller.
“Ocean’s three new billboards in Birmingham, shaped like large human eyes, will broadcast ads like regular digital billboards, but have the ability to change based on how many of a certain group are within “eyesight” of the camera,” reports the Wall Street Journal.
Minority Report, a 2002 thriller about a dystopian society starring Tom Cruise, depicts Cruise’s character walking through a subway station while sensors that scan his eyes address him by name and bombard him with personalized ads.
Another clip shows people boarding a train also having their irises scanned for approval. The movie was based on a dystopian short story by Philip K. Dick which warned of how such technology would be used in the future to crush privacy and civil liberties.
While the new technology being rolled out across the UK is not quite as chilling as the movie equivalent, it’s not far off.
“Cameras placed in the billboards will capture images of people at the station and beam those back to computers, which will analyze characteristics like gender and age. That will help create ads displayed on the billboards—a series of giant screens atop the station’s busiest entrances,” states the report.
The billboards will analyze how long a user looks at the ad, while also collecting information from the individual’s phone In exchange for free wi-fi.
“There’s no other way to get on a train than to walk past these things,” said Emma Carr of Big Brother Watch, adding “It’s incredibly difficult when you’re doing this to have informed consent.”
Billboards set to be installed at London’s Heathrow Airport will also change flight information based on the language being spoken by nearby people, technology which could feasibly lead to private conversations being recorded.
As we reported back in 2012, billboards that scanned faces were installed at a bus stop in Oxford Street, London, with developers Clear Channel UK and 3D Exposure promising that the next generation of the technology “may soon surpass what we’ve seen at the cinema.” Privacy watchdog The Open Rights Group labeled the idea “creepy.”
Luxury retail chains are also installing cameras inside mannequins that can spy on shoppers and record their conversations.
Redpepper, a company based in Nashville, TN, also rolled out a Facebook app in 2012 that worked with facial recognition cameras to identify customers as they entered bars and shops and then delivered discount coupons to their mobile phone.
While all this technology is being introduced under the guise of consumer engagement and convenience, the potential for abuse should law enforcement bodies or hackers get their hands on it should deeply concern anyone who values their privacy.