Tesco has initiated an information offensive as reports of the introduction of its face scanning technology have spread around the world.
The news that it is installing facial recognition technology in its UK petrol stations, with plans to roll out the technology ‘into as many supermarkets as possible’ has been picked up by news outlets in Yorkshire, Sydney, Toronto, India and China.
The Drum was contacted by Tesco media relations manager Emma Capon who told The Drum: “This is not new technology – it is already being used by other retailers.”
She added: “The screens do not use eyeball scanners, facial recognition or identify individual customers in any way. They simply estimate whether a person is male or female and to which one of three age groups they belong.
“Its purpose is to give customers relevant adverts based on these factors. No image or picture of customers is recorded or captured and nor is any personal data captured.
“The technology is owned and managed by Amscreen.
Ke Quang, chief operating officer of Quividi, the Paris-based company that developed the software in use spoke to The Guardian and said: "We don't do facial recognition, we do face detection."
He added: "It's software which works from the video feed coming off the camera. It can detect if it's seeing a face, but it never records the image or biomorphological information or traits.
“It picks up if it's seeing a man or a woman, the amount of time they pay attention to the screen, and their presence in front of the screen. The key thing though is that it never records or remembers any information. If you go from one camera in one location to another, it can't tell."
Nick Pickles of campaign group Big Brother Watch questioned whether Tesco should be “increasing the amount of surveillance we’re under so some companies can sell more advertising.”
“The potential for abuse is chilling,” he wrote in the Daily Mirror.
“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.
“We’re not stopping at age and gender – the long game is about identifying you, and facial recognition technology is getting close to enabling them to do it.”
He warned that given the number of CCTV cameras across Britain that could be adapted to use this technology, the potential to track people in real-time was huge.
“Equally, the commercial temptation to expand the data being collected is clear – knowing which other shops someone goes in for example. Is this harmless marketing or the evolution of the telescreen for the club card generation?” he asked.
“People accept a degree of surveillance for law enforcement purposes, but these systems are solely motivated to watch us to collect marketing data.
“People would never accept the police keeping a real-time log of which shops we go in, but this technology could do just that.”
Reaction to the plans on social media has been largely negative.
— Martin McKee (@martinmckee) November 4, 2013
On #newsnight, Tesco's plan to 'face-scan' customers is 'not acceptable' according to Anna Fielder from Privacy International
— BBC Newsnight (@BBCNewsnight) November 4, 2013
— Kurt Von Wolfrom (@theklb9) November 5, 2013
Man behind Tesco Club card sys Tesco plan to scan customers' faces to target ads "hasn't been thought thru in terms of what customers want"
— Ian Katz (@iankatz1000) November 4, 2013
Bad thing: Tesco to scan all shoppers for targeted ads. Good thing: equipment to do so made by Amstrad, so won't work http://t.co/dSOM6iEDHW
— John B (@johnb78) November 4, 2013
Scary... Tesco petrol stations to scan customers' faces so that advertising can be tailored - http://t.co/BmHNi7wEO0
— Empathize This (@empathizethis) November 5, 2013
New reasons to wear a balaclava in Tesco > BBC News - Tesco petrol stations use face-scan tech to target ads http://t.co/jx99BgoKwt
— tim malbon (@malbonster) November 4, 2013
— Michael Heath (@mikeyheath_) November 4, 2013
Tesco is watching you. Tesco to scan shoppers' faces as they queue . Your thoughts? http://t.co/k3VmxE87qE
— Netmums (@Netmums) November 4, 2013