Shopping in a public place should not bring any privacy expectations. Your credit card collects data. Your credit card company knows what you are buying. Save cameras to make sure you do not have shoplifting. But do you expect the freezer to judge you by age or gender?
That comes and sooner than you think. At a Walgreens site in New York Fast Company recently examined reporter Katharine Schwab about the potential future of retail store customization and encountered a direct encounter with a cooler door that provides recommendations as to who's right there into it. Instead of translucent glass, the doors seem more like slot machines – bright and vibrant rows of ice cream, food and drinks. With cameras, motion sensors and eye-tracking, the display of the door shifts to specific demographic data.
A woman looking at the radiator, for example, could see an ad for Diet Coke while a man is standing in the same place. A few minutes later, a Coke Zero could be picked up. Whether consumers see advertisements for Red Bull or Gatorade depends on their age. The time of day is important too. When it's almost time for dinner, the screen may move you to a frozen pizza. If it's a blazing hot day, you'll be directed to ice cream specialties.
Due to the longstanding controversy about facial recognition software, the system can only draw conclusions about its appearance. No photo can be taken to identify your identity or that you have been in the store before. Instead, it analyzes your photo and looks for facial features and micromeasurements that sometimes reflect age or gender.
Cooler Screens, the manufacturer of the technology, has teamed with Walgreens' locations to equip six stores across the country with the displays of how consumers are responding to this type of targeted advertising in the real world. As practice spreads, questions will likely follow. Does Cooler Screens save and share this data? (The company does not say so.) How deep is the view? Does junk food recommend the heavy and low-calorie slim body options? Will there be proposals based on ethnicity? Will the shoplifting be reported to management?
The footprint of Cooler Screens is low for the time being, but behind it are some heavy hitter. The startup was co-founded by former Argo Tea boss Arsen Avakian and received funding from Microsoft. As participating Walgreens sites report double-digit sales growth in freezers, Big Freezer can not wait to see you.
[ h / t Fast Company]