Facial Recognition Technology and Privacy: Is a Deal Really Worth It?

When you mention facial recognition technology, many people cringe and think of an invasion of privacy that will lead to the government tracking their every move and taking away their civil liberties.

On the other hand, when facial recognition technology is mentioned to other people, they get excited about all the possible cool things that can be done, from improved security systems to marketing opportunities.

Where you stand on this issue is probably going to determine how you feel about a new high-tech loyalty program that is being tested by redpepper, an advertising agency with offices in Atlanta and Nashville.

But, before we get into that further, I want to refresh your memory about another use of facial recognition technology that I talked about in a post last month.

In the post, I mentioned digital signage that is using facial recognition technology that helps identify basic demographics (gender, approximate age, body type, etc.) of the consumers who are looking at the digital sign and then uses that information to deliver relevant ads to them.

Personally, I think that this use of facial recognition technology is harmless because it is only identifying the characteristics of the person, not who the person is. In other words, the consumer’s face is not being matched to a large database to identify their exact identity.

It’s a good thing that I didn’t argue that such a database doesn’t even exist, because only a few days later, I learned that there is a database that I didn’t even think about—Facebook.

Here’s where redpepper enters the story.

Facedeals

As an article on the Los Angeles Times website reports, “A new app is being tested in Nashville, Tenn., that can check in people on Facebook and send them offers using facial-recognition cameras.”

“Called Facedeals, the new service uses cameras installed at businesses’ front doors to read people’s faces as they enter,” the article continues. “If the people who come in are users of the app, they will be checked in, and based on their “like” history, they would receive a customized offer.”

Keep in mind, the idea of getting a deal based on checking in is not new. Businesses around the country are doing the same thing using Foursquare and other location-based social networking sites. In fact, last year I wrote a blog post about Concentrics Restaurants in Atlanta, Georgia. With the help of PlacePunch, Concentrics Restaurants was doing a really great job of offering deals to loyal customers who checked in on Foursquare, Facebook, Gowalla or Yelp.

It appears that the main difference is that Facedeals uses facial recognition technology to check a consumer in every time they enter an establishment that participates in the program. In addition, Facedeals also customizes the deal offered based on the participants “likes” on Facebook.

You can find additional information about Facedeals on the redpepper website.

Privacy Issues

If you search YouTube, you will find that there are people who are letting their opinions be known, both for and against Facedeals.

As you would expect, the normal privacy issues are being brought to the forefront.

Personally, I’m not against using facial recognition technology in this manner. The main reason for my stance is that it is opt in.

However, other people could argue that Facedeals could still track you based on your Facebook profile information even if you don’t opt in and just not tell you. But, let’s face it, the government might already be doing this.

The only problem that I have with Facedeals is that by automatically checking you in on Facebook, all the people who you are connected to on Facebook would know where you are every time you enter a participating establishment. (Without the facial recognition component, you get to choose when to check in and where to share the information.) This could be fixed by having a setting that allows the user to decide not share the check-ins on their Facebook page.

Conclusion

In the future, more technologies are going to be introduced that will push the envelope and challenge both our imagination and how we define our expectations of privacy.

Everyone is aware that facial recognition technologies exist.

However, some people are going to fight to limit its use.

Businesses that plan to use facial recognition technology need to be aware that they serve customers who embrace this type of technology and those who are vehemently against it. Therefore, they need to decide whether or not using a service similar to Facedeals is worth the effort.

Ultimately, though, it is the consumer who gets to decide. If enough people who are against this type of technology voice their opinion to the business owner, the business owner will be forced to listen. On the other hand, if a majority of customers embrace the technology, then its use will become a more common occurrence in businesses all over the world.

Therefore, it is going to be interesting to see how the people of Nashville welcome Facedeals.

My question to you is: If you were given the opportunity to participate in this type of service, would you choose to opt in?

Photo credit: david drexler on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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