Shoppers face (secret) camera evaluation

CCTVAs each week passes, slick salespeople flog new “miracle” surveillance cameras. Here, a report indicates national chain stores are installing devices that analyse shoppers emotions, pick their gender, guess their age, deduce their mood. As CLA’s National Media Director, Tim Vines, points out, shops infringe people’s privacy if a person’s image is used for a purpose they are not aware of.

Shoppers face a camera test

Perth retailers are using sophisticated facial recognition technology to analyse shoppers’ emotions. The futuristic technology, released by [a security firm] last month, can also track the direction customers walk around stores, how long they stand in front of products and demographics such as age and gender. It is the first technology used in Australia capable of detecting emotions.

[The firm’s] national retail manager said about 50 WA shops, mostly national chains stores, used the system. He said cameras were placed around the store to determine whether a customer was happy, sad, angry or surprised. “To detect emotion we primarily focus on the eyes and lips and match the subject’s current emotive state against a database of thousands of pre-qualified facial samples,” [he] said.

At least three expressions were needed for the positive identification of an emotion. A software program analysed the images to create a report which helped retailers make changes to improve shopping, he said. For example, the retailer could put more staff on at times when customers looked angry at checkouts or position products based on reactions to displays.

[He] said the technology was popular with department, electronics and shoe stores in Perth. Retail Traders Association WA executive director Wayne Spencer said the system could help shops battle tough economic conditions and lure customers back from online shopping. However, he believed smaller stores would be better off talking to customers or simply watching them.

He applauded the security benefits because the system could spot trends, patterns and abnormalities in behaviour to combat shoplifting.

[The firm manager] said Big Brother concerns were not warranted because the footage was not recorded. A spokesman for Police Minister Rob Johnson said there was no legal requirement in State legislation for shop owners to warn people they were being filmed.

Civil Liberties Australia director Tim Vines said the Federal Privacy Act required businesses to ensure customers were aware of the purposes for which the information was collected. However, enforcement needed to be stronger.

“People expect that when they go into a public space or shopping centres there are going to be cameras around,” he said. “But the issue remains that while it may be strictly lawful, it is still an infringement of that individual’s privacy if their image is used for a purpose they are not aware of.”
– report by Kate Bastians, The West, 5 Nov 2011

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  1. First-hand experience of tracking shoppers
    I have to smile at surveillance used to detect emotions of shoppers. I’ve had some experience here as my former work was a market analyst. We used to have cameras in-store. These cameras were PTZ or Pan, Tilt and Zoom. We used to track customers up and down isles. Using my creative talent I came up with pictograms to be numbered whereby I could use the image to depict a shopping pattern. We used to also track footfalls to get an idea of traffic flow per isle. We would evaluate where they looked on the shelf, given clients pay for shelf space, that becomes important to whether they get brand value. I also developed a survey to intercept customers to find out what they were shopping for, whether they used a shopping list, how that differed given impulse buying. We used to have a sign out the front, not a big one by the way, that would notify customers of filming taking place.
    This work was based in the UK, when I returned to Australia I did see a market potential and did approach Proctor and Gamble, thankfully at my introductory presentation I mispelt their name. In my heart I didn’t feel right about it. I felt it an invasion of privacy. I still do. It is so important that organisations and staff are trained in ethics, they have to be clear about the boundaries. In a commercial sense how much scrutinising is okay? How much data do we collect to analyse the target market?
    What is interesting is that if I was to go into a shop with a camera and asked if I wanted that, I would say no. Instead what is done is just let you know they are filming/recording and if you don’t want it don’t go in. So many times I have seen on websites where they might give you a rundown of their conditions, you have to agree, if you don’t you don’t get the service, same goes for recruitment companies, so it is not free choice. A classic is when I am told my voice is recorded, I am no longer asked if I give permission. I really note that. I feel forced all the way to comply with what they want, not what I want. Freedom is a choice not being forced, I feel.
    Looking at my life today I see the difference in myself. Years ago I felt inspired to go into the peace area. I dreamed I was teaching peace and my life has never been the same. I feel I have moved from a Self serving mindset to one where I am serving the greater self, of which I see all of us part of. My mindset is completely different and I wouldn’t even consider tracking people, ethically I couldn’t do it anymore. The only exception would be to find someone lost.

    Susan, aka Peaceful

    Susan Carew, a former CLA member
  2. I think this is one of those places where a line should be drawn in the sand. Our existence and very emotions are being cultivated for profit. Surely we have a right not to be watched? They may post signs, and we may chose to shop elsewhere, but eventually we will run out of places to go.

  3. This is mostly sales hype. Significant research and development funds have been directed to video analytics and in controlled conditions they often perform as claimed, but in terms of consistent performance and reliability reputable security consultants would be quite wary of recommending this equipment. It is good practice to install signs advising shop entrants they are under survellance even if this is not mandatory under local legislation.

    Mark Jarratt

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