Show Me Your Face – and I’ll Tell You Who You are!

Resently, a technical error revealed how Peppes Pizza in Oslo central station was using face recognition technology and hidden cameras to target messages to people passing by.


The error revealed how women were shown salad and men got meat, in addition to being logged in terms of how long they looked at the ad for further customisation.

Apart from doubt about the legality, the concept also caused debate about the unpleasantness of being scanned and categorised; Ad sees who you are and on Twitter. But why?

Any professional sales or service person will obviously “scan” my sex and type to evaluate what I might like and how to appeal to me. Why is this any different?

There of course is the concern about how my data is stored, for what purpose, and whether it is combined with identification data. This both in relation to the actual data collector, but also other parties who may gain access to my data and in the long run.

But, what is worse, is the feeling of violation. The discomfort of being under surveillance and manipulated. Robbed somehow of free will. Yes, I know that everything from shop layout to communication is designed to influence my behaviour. And that my online behaviour is tracked to allow targeted ads. But digitally, at least, I can opt-out through incognito searches and adblockers. Will I have to wear a ski-mask to avoid a similar profiling in the real world?

The fact, that “someone” is secretly, but systematically surveying and analysing our behaviour and laying out our options, triggers a fundamental fear of control loss in us. Maybe making us feel a bit like Jim Carrey in The Truman Show.

When discussing customer engagement, it is often about giving an individualised personal experience – across channels, platforms, media, etc. That is clearly where we are headed, and not only in terms of commercial marketing.

Ultimately, when everything is fully individualised, it will permeate the cohesion and identity of the society to the extent where we no longer share a common references. This was made particularly apparent at the recent American election. We stream each our programmes and news, choose our own favourite online sources – often echo chambers or niche communities that confirm or reflect ourselves and our positions. The online communication is becoming more and more individualised based on our behaviour. And being so easy to track, we are increasingly presented only with products and opinions that perfectly match our persona and preconceptions.

But before concluding that the world is out of joint, we might consider what non-commercial good the technology can bring, eg. personalised service in areas where we already expect surveillance. This could be personalised messaging to help us find our way in hospitals. Or how about categorising patients based on urgency in the emergency room? I wont venture into the criteria, but doctors are probably able to define some solid telltales, like bleeding eyes > immediate isolation.