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It’s your face. Or is it? Responsible use of facial recognition software for marketing

May 21st, 2013

Since I specialize in branding companies, products and people. I have been closely following the trend in marketing using facial recognition technology. With cameras in stores, on streets, and in your hand, it’s easy for all of our faces to be entered into someone’s facial database.

Facial recognition software for marketing is here in a big way and getting bigger. "60 Minutes" correspondent Lesley Stahl recently reported on how quickly this technology is coming into all of our lives, whether we like it or not:

Within the next 5 years, it’s expected to be a 68 billion dollar market.  Facebook alone is reported to be spending about 60 million on its own to be able to read faces. “But is that too much of a good thing?” asks Johnson. The way the systems work, it’s not just your face that is captured, but also much of your personal information:

In my opinion, from a marketer’s point of view it’s heaven. They can tailor ads, products, even prices based on your age, tax bracket, social media persona and purchasing habits. Marketers will pay handsomely for that information. For example, NEC has developed a marketing service utilizing facial recognition technology. It estimates the age and sex of customers, along with the dates and number of times that customers go to each store. This information is then analyzed to help predict trends in customer behavior and shopping frequency.

 From a consumer’s point of view this could be a nightmare—the ultimate invasion of privacy.

I’m not just a brand strategist. I’m also a consumer. And I’d like to speak with the voice of reason. New technology can offer enormous benefits. It also comes with enormous responsibility. I firmly believe we are collectively charged with that responsibility. We have to ensure this facial recognition technology does not become an all out assault on our privacy. Do we want our children be added to these facial databases? Probably not. Do we ourselves want to be added without our knowledge or permission? Probably not.

Just as the FCC has a Do Not Call Registry, which enables people to register their phones so telemarketers are unable to call them, I highly recommend we look at a Do Not Face Registry where you can opt out of any facial recognition program used by marketers. Or as I like to put it, “Unlist my face.” Of course, if you do want tailored ads and offers, you can always opt in.

One consumer-friendly use of facial recognition technology is by EyeBuyDirect. The technology allows the creation of a virtual eyeglass try-on room using one of your own photos. It allows shoppers to superimpose choices of eyeglasses onto themselves. The system also allows for feedback with fellow shoppers across EyeBuyDirect’s social network.

The way I see it, this is an extraordinary opportunity to communicate directly with a consumer audience. Just let’s not make it a free-for-all. Or it will be freedom for none.

Read this article on Wall Street Journal

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