Digital Signage Threatens Privacy

A new report presented at the Federal Trade Commission's Privacy Roundtable in Berkeley, Calif., warns of threats to consumer privacy posed by new tracking technology incorporated into some digital signage.

Produced by an organization called the World Privacy Forum, the report also presents a recommended code of conduct crafted by an out-of-home advertising industry organization, the Point of Purchase Advertising Institute (POPAI), to avoid transgressions that could inspire consumer backlash.

The new report, titled "The One-Way-Mirror-Society: Privacy Implications of Digital Signage," mentions a number of "mid-range" tracking technologies. It includes technology that allows digital signage to track heat paths (showing a consumer's movement, for example, around a retail environment) and separate technology that tracks the consumer's gaze, to determine what part of the sign is most interesting.

But the most controversial technology currently being used allows digital signage to scan the facial features and other physical characteristics of passers-by to determine their age, gender and ethnicity.

The WPF also produced a list of preliminary but fairly stringent recommendations from POPAI. Some of the notable suggestions include "no one-sided industry self regulation," implying the government may need to formulate standards and regulate the industry.

The WPF points out that this recommendation isn't actually that far-reaching, since there are already a number of state and federal laws governing marketing in public places and the kind of consumer information that can be gathered with or without consumers' consent. In other words, there is a substantial body of legal standards already in place, such as laws prohibiting marketers from offering a special promotion only to one kind or class of consumer (e.g., a special discount available only to women).

The organization's recommendations also include prominent disclosure by signage that tracking technology is being used; no storage of biometric or other personally identifying data without a consumer "opt-in"; and no re-purposing of footage from security cameras or tracking technologies originally employed for another purpose (like fire safety compliance).

1 comment about "Digital Signage Threatens Privacy".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. John Grono from GAP Research, January 28, 2010 at 7:55 a.m.

    How is that as much of a threat to privacy as the tracking that occurs online?

Next story loading loading..