Are there privacy concerns around Amscreen tech?

The OptimEyes technology rolling out at Tesco petrol stations is a long way from Minority Report, Mark Banham finds.

When anyone mentions Minority Report in relation to advertising, it’s either a PR stumble or a deliberate attempt to create a stir.

It’s fair to say that Simon Sugar, the chief executive of the digital out-of-home company Amscreen, is not shy of grabbing a few headlines – taking a few lessons from his father and the company’s chairman, Lord Sugar.

Talking to the press recently, the Amscreen chief executive conjured up images from Steven Spielberg’s 2002 film – itself an adaptation of Philip K Dick’s 1956 short story – in which outdoor advertising addresses consumers personally and even recommends product choices in accordance to their previous or preferred purchases.

The truth is, any suggestion that we have reached that stage is a little exaggerated. Amscreen’s technology is an advance in targeted outdoor technology, but years away from Dick’s dystopia.

The 450 screens that comprise Amscreen’s OptimEyes system will not be sited in Tesco stores but at its petrol stations. They will scan people’s faces as they queue at the tills in an attempt to deliver ever-more tailored and focused ads.

Part of a five-year deal, the technology decides whether a person is male or female and places them into one of three possible age groups before serving them the most appropriate advertising.

It seems like this step into the future may not be as carefree as expected, though, with personal security and civil liberties increasingly high on the agenda in the UK.

Tesco, for its part, has been quick to clarify that any facial-recognition data will not be stored and that the system is already in use in petrol stations outside of its own.

The Information Commissioner’s Office, which was set up "to uphold information rights" and promote "data privacy for individuals", has already responded to the Tesco and Amscreen deal with some caution.

It is to request a meeting with the UK’s biggest supermarket on "how people’s information is being used", adding that it would be "making enquiries with Tesco to find out more about the system and how it complies with the Data Protection Act".

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