Marketing Purposes or Privacy Violations: How Companies are Using AVA for Customer Surveillance

Media Division | May 24, 2017

Real-time face recognition technology has reached a level of development only previously seen in movies like Mission Impossible.  The capabilities of FindFace, a face recognition technology developed by a Russian startup company, NTechLab, are truly impressive.  The software can determine not only the identity of the person but their recent whereabouts, unpaid traffic tickets or outstanding warrants.

Along with the excitement and awe of such a fantastic technical accomplishment and the possibilities of its use, comes the fear of it falling into the wrong hands.  With the use of surveillance cameras, privacy has been a long standing issue.

Unlike government agencies, most businesses do not use such highly sophisticated technology for the purposes of spying on people but do use Anonymous Video Analytics as a form of internet activity monitoring.

AVA systems do not have the ability to recognize or identify a person but can detect a person interacting with the display, such as an advertisement, and obtain general data about the kind of customer they represent.  Such detection algorithms are based on a facial pattern that has been formed from an audience database of thousands of face images.  The system will gather the viewer’s approximate age and gender as well as whether or not this person seems to be interested in what he or she is viewing, including the duration of time spent watching.  Images of a person, however, are not saved or recorded in this case.  It is purely a report of numerical statistics.

Currently, there are more than a billion internet-enabled mobile, tablet, and desktop devices, according to ABI Research, and digital displays reach over 70% of teens and adults every month.  It is estimated that camera sensors will double by the end of this year as software developers are constantly adding new features to all devices.  As a result, more and more companies are beginning to use the pattern detection technology in an effort to understand their customers.

Know How to Operate Within Internet Privacy Laws

Not all customer surveillance is a privacy violation but there are rules of conduct. The Federal Trade Commission has set some guidelines for businesses using facial recognition or AVA for gathering market data. The FTC has been the main federal agency in enforcing privacy laws and uses law enforcement, policy initiatives, and both consumer and business education to protect consumers’ personal information.

Within their stated guidelines, they recommend that companies take appropriate steps to make sure that consumers are aware of such technologies being used when they come in contact with them and that they are given a choice whether or not data about them is collected.  Giving the consumer an option to opt out of being part of the data collection is suggested.

More often than not, given the choice and information as to what data the technology is collecting and how the information will be used, consumers are willing participants.  The data gathered should be secured and not used for any other purpose than so stated and certainly not sold as set forth in the ethical guidelines for internet surveillance.

Some corporations choose not to follow these standards, and others with their fine print and legal jargon make it basically impossible for a consumer to clearly understand that their data is about to be sold or used for purposes, that if clearly stated, the consumer would disagree with.

Nonetheless, internet surveillance clearly has its benefits for a corporation and is not unethical unless used for unethical purposes.

Contact Massive Alliance to find out how internet surveillance can benefit you or your company within the guidelines of the law.

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