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Media Technology

New Ads That Watch You 238

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the watching-the-watchers dept.
Pandanapper writes to tell us Yahoo is reporting that if you find yourself watching an ad on a video screen in a public venue, the ad may be watching you as well. "Small cameras can now be embedded in the screen or hidden around it, tracking who looks at the screen and for how long. The makers of the tracking systems say the software can determine the viewer's gender, approximate age range and, in some cases, ethnicity -- and can change the ads accordingly. That could mean razor ads for men, cosmetics ads for women and video-game ads for teens."
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New Ads That Watch You

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  • by EvilVassago (1410063) on Friday January 30, 2009 @06:43PM (#26672441)
    In Soviet America Ads Watch You
  • Salesmen (Score:3, Insightful)

    by number17 (952777) on Friday January 30, 2009 @06:43PM (#26672445)
    Now if they could only make one of these for my front door to recognize the vacuum salesmen.
    • Now if they could only make one of these for my front door to recognize the vacuum salesmen.

      How will this help you when they pretend to be a burglar?

    • They do make those for the front door. They're called home security cameras.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Inda (580031)
      My street in the UK is a "no cold calls" street. We all thought it would be a complete waste of time when the local council introduced it. No one believed the cold callers would take any notice.

      Two years down the line, I've not had one caller interrupting my dinner, not one knocking late at night and, this is the biggest bonus in my eyes, no religious callers on a Sunday morning even thought the by-law doesn't apply to them.

      One notice at the beginning of the street with the police station's number at the bo
  • by Chyeld (713439) <chyeld@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Friday January 30, 2009 @06:44PM (#26672473)

    I'm a teenaged bearded woman, those insensitive clods!

  • by carrier lost (222597) on Friday January 30, 2009 @06:45PM (#26672477) Homepage

    That could mean razor ads for men, cosmetics ads for women and video-game ads for teens.

    ...ads for tissues for people picking their noses
    ads for itch powder for people scratching their crotches
    and ads for weapons for people giving the sign the finger.

  • by EvilDrMike (1342519) on Friday January 30, 2009 @06:45PM (#26672479)
    Diet adds for fat people
    Cosmetic surgery adds for ugly people
    Maybe even lawyer adds if you get run over while staring at the screen

    -EDM
  • for male flashers?
  • So... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday January 30, 2009 @06:47PM (#26672493) Journal
    My dear marketing chums, what ads will people with their middle fingers extended at the camera be forced to enjoy?

    Extra credit goes to the first person who gets served an NRA or Soldier of Fortune ad, if you get my drift...
  • by Chyeld (713439) <chyeld@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Friday January 30, 2009 @06:48PM (#26672499)

    from the AP
    http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gtt0GDVKp2kUEw39aEGal9yfYmjgD961JH500 [google.com]

    When you watch these ads, the ads check you out
    By DINESH RAMDE - 5 hours ago

    MILWAUKEE (AP) -- Watch an advertisement on a video screen in a mall, health club or grocery store and there's a slim -- but growing -- chance the ad is watching you too.

    Small cameras can now be embedded in the screen or hidden around it, tracking who looks at the screen and for how long. The makers of the tracking systems say the software can determine the viewer's gender, approximate age range and, in some cases, ethnicity -- and can change the ads accordingly.

    That could mean razor ads for men, cosmetics ads for women and video-game ads for teens.

    And even if the ads don't shift based on which people are watching, the technology's ability to determine the viewers' demographics is golden for advertisers who want to know how effectively they're reaching their target audience.

    While the technology remains in limited use for now, advertising industry analysts say it is finally beginning to live up to its promise. The manufacturers say their systems can accurately determine gender 85 to 90 percent of the time, while accuracy for the other measures continues to be refined.

    The concept is reminiscent of the science-fiction movie "Minority Report," in which Tom Cruise's character enters a mall and finds that retinal scanners identify him and prompt personalized ads that greet him by name.

    But this technology doesn't go nearly that far. It doesn't identify people individually -- it simply categorizes them by outward appearances.

    So a video screen might show a motorcycle ad for a group of men, but switch to a minivan ad when women and children join them, said Vicki Rabenou, the chief measurement officer of Tampa, Fla.-based TruMedia Technologies Inc., one of the leaders in developing the technology.

    "This is proactive merchandising," Rabenou said. "You're targeting people with smart ads."

    Because the tracking industry is still in its infancy, there isn't yet consensus on how to refer to the technology. Some call it face reading, face counting, gaze tracking or, more generally, face-based audience measurement.

    Whatever it's called, advertisers are finally ready to try it, said advertising consultant Jack Sullivan, a senior vice president of Starcom USA in Chicago. "I think you're going to see a lot of movement toward it by the end of this year in the top 10 markets," he said.

    Because face tracking might feel reminiscent of Big Brother, manufacturers are racing to offer reassurances. When the systems capture an image of who's watching the screen, a computer instantly analyzes it. The systems' manufacturers insist, however, that nothing is ever stored and no identifying information is ever associated with the pictures. That makes the system less intrusive than a surveillance camera that records what it sees, the developers say.

    The idea still worries Lee Tien, a senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil-liberties group in San Francisco. Tien said it's not enough to say some system is "not as bad as some other technology," and argues that cameras that study people contribute to an erosion of privacy.

    In general, the tracking systems work like this: A sensor or camera in or near the screen identifies viewers' faces by picking up shapes, colors and the relative speed of movement. The concept is similar to the way consumer cameras now can automatically make sure faces are in focus.

    When the ad system pinpoints a face, it compares shapes and patterns to faces that are already identified in a database as male or female. That lets the system predict the person's gender almost immediately.

    "The most important features seem to be cheekbones, fullness of lips and the gap between the eyebrows," said Paolo Prandoni, chief scienti

    • by TubeSteak (669689)

      I wonder how well it handles pictures or masks.

      • I would imagine that it can't tell the difference between pictures, masks, and real faces. But so what? It doesn't really matter if it gets the sex ratio of the crowd wrong once in a while because three of the teenage girls looking at it were wearing Richard Nixon masks.

  • Odd... I'd have thought that ethnicity, at least in broad terms, would be a lot easier to determine than age range or gender.
    • by Carnildo (712617)

      It's easy to tell a sub-Saharan African from a Scandinavian, but the majority of humans are medium brown. Try getting a computer to tell an Arab from a Vietnamese from a Native American.

    • From the fine article: "There's moderate demand for ads based on ethnic information, but the companies acknowledge that determining ethnicity is more challenging than figuring out gender and age range."

      I imagine "challenging" here may include legally challenging as much as technically challenging; I can imagine a risk of discrimination lawsuits from advertising certain products more heavily to blacks than to whites.

      Or maybe from the computer's point of view, we all look alike to them [jacksonville.com].

  • by Adrian Lopez (2615) on Friday January 30, 2009 @06:59PM (#26672653) Homepage

    I wonder this might be used for nefarious purposes.

    if (minor_is_alone)
      play(cigarette_ad.avi);
    else
      play(tickle_me_elmo.avi);

  • If this means... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Reapman (740286) on Friday January 30, 2009 @07:03PM (#26672717)

    ... less Tampon ad's, count me IN. As long as their not tying into credit card or purchasing history it doesn't bother me. I don't really want to have to start clearing out my real life "cookies" everytime I finish a shopping trip.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by needs2bfree (1256494)
      I agree. I actually prefer targeted ads. The less makeup commercials I have to watch, the better. I dont even care about the purchasing history, as long as when im with my friends, an add doesnt shout "needs2bfree, Reduced price on Viagra, next isle"
      • by zmollusc (763634)

        If only the targetting was perfect, cheap bastards like me wouldn't have to watch any ads as we buy the same white label crap every week and the margins wouldn't support advertising.

    • The ones with rounded ends are easier to - you know - use.
  • This is NOT new news, and that at LEAST 2 WEEKS ago i read about this. Somewhere in the article Japan was mentioned.

    And, no, i'm not referring to this even OLDER article:

    http://www.multichannel.com/blog/BIT_RATE/6720-Microsoft_s_TV_Ads_That_Watch_You.php [multichannel.com]

  • When i read this, I kept thinking of some Geico ad with a pile of money and two plastic eyes...
  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Friday January 30, 2009 @07:16PM (#26672859)

    This is marketing gone too far, but not for the reasons you're thinking. Technology is being misused here because this is profiling in a pretty mask. This very same technology is used in airports, trying to identify people's emotions, their age, ethnicity, gender, and every other physical attribute we can categorize and has at least a minimal social meaning. And although the argument for harm here is greatly diminished (I get an advertisement not meant for me versus an unsolicited gloved finger, optional lube), it's still non-zero.

    As an aside, things that were unimaginable even ten years ago for surveillance are now commonplace. Did you know that every almost Target store in the United States is being fitted (or retrofitted) with Automatic Number Plate Recognition systems? In english, they tag you to your car. And in another five years or so, likely your face, credit card number, and possibly driver's license information, all together. The technology is already installed, it just needs a software update. And I should know -- I pushed those updates and worked with the guys who managed the camera installations. And before you jump on Target for this -- thousands of businesses are doing the same thing. And some of them are sharing their data, creating black lists and more. It won't be long before no matter where you go, you're being weighed, measured, and found wanting. And you were worried about black helicopters and guys in suits with no sense of humor? At least the NSA, CIA, FBI, and other three-letter acronym'd agencies have laws, rules, procedures, and professional codes of conduct to uphold. And appeals processes. Good luck getting out of Target's system... You'll still be there, long after your body has decomposed in a hole somewhere. All you geeks dreamed of an interconnected world; Everything is part of the 'net. Well, it is. And what a hell it is.

    But back to the topic at hand... Even people can't guess gender, ethnicity, or age with a high degree of accuracy. A computer, by necessity, will be far worse at this. And I have a very good idea of how that's going to go over. See, my gender is difficult to tell. At the drive-thru or on the phone, I am a "ma'am". At the post office service desk, I'm usually a "sir". On the bus, I get eyes from creepy old guys and straight girls. And both lesbians and gays, amusingly enough. My life is full of delicious ambiguity. My friend's ethnicity, because of a delicate balance of traits, is taken for whatever race the person looking at her happens to be. It has led to some VERY interesting social engagements.

    But as amusing as it is most of the time, it has been dangerous and frustrating at other times. I was once refused admission to an urgent care on the grounds that my medical card had the right name on it, but the wrong gender. That made for an expensive and unnecessary trip to ER. I've called my bank before and been told that I couldn't access my account (despite giving all the requisite details) -- same reason. My friend was nearly jumped for wearing "gang colors" -- a situation that my white friends have never experienced. Getting these "little" social details wrong can have severe consequences for a person.

    And to bring it all home, imagine walking by one of these machines and having it spring to life, point to you and say in a loud booming voice -- "You should try our new maxi pads, miss!" if you're a guy. Or getting a "Gilette! The best a man can get!" commercial if you're a girl. Oops. The possibilities for embarrassment are endless... and you'd better believe someone's going to sue over this. And rightfully so.

    • Have you read the story by Marshall Brain called "Story of Manna".

      Here's the link [marshallbrain.com]. It's as you say, but in a fiction story, buy oh soo true.

    • Did you know that every almost Target store in the United States is being fitted (or retrofitted) with Automatic Number Plate Recognition systems? In english, they tag you to your car.

      Confirmation. [abovetopsecret.com]

      I see a market for gadgets that can easily make plates unreadable when not on public roadways.
      I'm thinking electrochromic plate covers.

    • But as amusing as it is most of the time, it has been dangerous and frustrating at other times. I was once refused admission to an urgent care on the grounds that my medical card had the right name on it, but the wrong gender.

      And how long had you been carrying around that card meaning to someday get around to getting ready to get it fixed?

    • by DeadChobi (740395)

      Disclaimer: I'm drunk enough that I couldn't find my ass with a map and both hands.

      When these ads get sophisticated enough that they can tell that I'm drunk and show me ads for the nearest liquor store or bar, count me in. But if they recognize my face as too feminine, count me out. Just because a designer designed something to catch up to two standard deviations from the mean doesn't mean that there isn't a tenth of a percentage point which is not caught by this scheme. These people will be very embarrasse

      • by Nethead (1563)

        Wonderful post. If you were here, I'd buy you a drink. I'd friend you but /. only allows me know 200 users... that's like only 20 a year.

    • Everything is part of the 'net. Well, it is. And what a hell it is.

      What you say seems to make sense, but I don't see why it is "hell". Yes, privacy is dead - so what? Get over it already. Does it change a lot? You bet. Both for good and for bad. Such is the nature of human progress.

    • I'm sure a can of spray paint or magic marker will do just fine. Spit on the camera. Just cover it up with a sticker. Do this often enough and the cost of maintaining these customized ad machines will make the costs of this type of advertising soar.

  • by bfwebster (90513) on Friday January 30, 2009 @07:24PM (#26672949) Homepage

    While I think there were some plot holes and flaws in Spielberg's adaptation of "Minority Report", and I firmly believe he wussed out on the ending, the film has had a remarkable knack of pointing out realistic future technologies (witness how the midair-gesture-oriented UIs keep popping up). Of course, "Minority Report" had the public ads that not only recognized your gender, etc., but actually recognized you. Given advances in face and other biometric recognition systems, this part of "Minority Report" may be coming true sooner than we all think (and hope). ..bruce..

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by seidojohn (870852)
      Actually, the people who made Minority Report (the movie, not the story) got their idea for the way it would look and be used from an actual project:
      http://oblong.com [oblong.com]

      From the page:

      The similarity is no coincidence: one of Oblong's founders served as science advisor to Minority Report and based the design of those scenes directly on his earlier work at MIT.

  • TMI? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by macraig (621737) <mark...a...craig@@@gmail...com> on Friday January 30, 2009 @07:29PM (#26673009)

    At what point does Big Business learn enough about human psychology and "psychohistory" [wikipedia.org] that it's malignant and no longer arguably neutral or benign?

    News like this is a reminder that we passed that threshold some time ago.

    • At what point does Big Business learn enough about human psychology and "psychohistory" [wikipedia.org] that it's malignant and no longer arguably neutral or benign?

      News like this is a reminder that we passed that threshold some time ago.

      The manager of Tatu, the russian two-girl band that pretended to be lesbians for profit, was a child psychologist.
      He's the one who came up with the "lets sell records by marketing soft core lesbian porn" concept.

      So, "some time ago", yes.

  • by kheldan (1460303) on Friday January 30, 2009 @07:30PM (#26673029) Journal
    It's bad enough that we're being watched by traffic cameras out in public and CCTV security cameras in other places, but NOW we're going to have to put up with THIS? I find it somewhat intrusive and more than a little creepy!

    MEMO TO ADVERTISERS: I have TIVO. I DON'T WATCH COMMERCIALS in the first place. I have AdBlock, FlashBlock, and NoScript installed in Firefox because I DO NOT WANT your damned fucking ads in my face. I ***DO NOT WANT*** your stupid fucking targeted ads in my face in PUBLIC either, so GTFO!

    • Sorry for the second reply but slightly different topic... You skip commercials. So do I. What has it gained us? Nothing. In fact the situation is worse. Knowing that we skip the commercials during their allotted time, the advertisers are now broadcasting their commercials DURING the show. It used to be just a channel logo in the corner. Now The guy from Burn Notice runs from one end of my screen to the other. The ad takes up 1/4 of the viewing space. Let me know when you've written the script to
  • Step 4: Lawsuit! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by RyoShin (610051)

    So how long until some mother sues a company because their adbox recognized her 14 year old son as a 20 year old and offered him a discount on condoms or cigarettes?

    (Yes, I know that US law forbids cigarette ads in various medias.)

  • ...would such a billboard produce if it were confronted with a few dozen people wearing Richard Nixon masks? Better, wearing some rubber butts over their faces. Or even just shining mirrors.

    I can hardly wait to participate in a beta test.

    • I'm curious to see what gets advertised for 6 card board cut outs and 2 manequins I've strategically installed in front of thier billboard.
  • In Soviet Russia bad joke writes you!
  • For what you ask? Racism, of course.

    Imagine this: You're black and you get to see ads for overpriced bling-bling and refinancing opportunities once you started using this "feedback opportunity". Negative stereotyping? Not necessarily, they may not even be targeted, but who knows? Hey, someone will try it! Manufacturers will fear the bad publicity, possibly in their premier target group, and will drop the whole deal faster than it rose. After all, it's easy to prove if such stereotypes are used. Put a $non_m

  • Oh boy! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by IonOtter (629215)

    A new and amusing use for a mannequin! I bet I could keep that adboard busy until the processor or video card blows up!

  • This kind of stuff has potential without profiling or tracking. You could take a measure of how effective an ad is, by measuring the number of faces looking at the billboard, maybe bonus points for people who stop and stare. It'd mean more effective ads, which would, in turn, mean lower prices. If the ads are too annoying, then there'd be less faces in the shop to stare, since everyone would have shopped somewhere else by then. It's a win-win.

  • It's not just kids that play video games you know. And if you'd actually met a woman you'd know that they shave too. (They even have their own pink razors made especially for them.) And where I live, the men wear cosmetics too.
  • Something tells me they'll try and figure out a way to tell the wealth of the viewer by what they're wearing, sofor example anyone who looks poor will get loan adverts whilst anyone who looks rich will get expensive car/house/holiday adverts.
  • In the future, these things will be able to identify you, look you up in various spam profile registries or even read your thoughts.

    Then imagine that you're in the underground station, you turn to face an ad screen and it suddenly starts advertising fetish wear.

    While everyone looked on. :P

  • ... that they can identify you as an individual. memory is cheap. To quote Neil Stephenson... "Once scanned they compare you to their database and know everything about you. And if you're not in their database, well, you are now." Boy this tinfoil is itchy.

Whenever a system becomes completely defined, some damn fool discovers something which either abolishes the system or expands it beyond recognition.

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