Skip to main content

Pizzeria sign caught tracking customers via a camera, facial recognition

sign caught tracking users with camera 35241222  shop sale motion blurred pedestrians
Connel Design / 123RF
Sure, the web makes it easy for businesses to track your spending and surfing habits, but those physical billboards you see shopping offline could be tracking you, too. When an electronic sign at a Peppe’s Pizza in Norway crashed earlier this month, it showed customers computer output code that suggested the sign was tracking their responses using camera and facial recognition technology.

The crashed sign temporarily showed the program’s output, or what the program was measuring, which was photographed by a patron and uploaded to a web forum. That output code showed that the sign’s built-in camera was watching anyone who stopped to give the sign a glance. Using facial recognition technology, the sign appears to track gender, age, if the viewer wore glasses and even if that person was smiling, tagged along with just how long the sign maintained that person’s attention.

Related Videos

That data is likely used for the advertiser to improve the sign based on real-world data. The system could theoretically be tracking which messages and images tend to attract men or women and of what age. Tagging whether or not the passerby smiles indicates the program tracks emotional responses. That data is likely used to improve future ads on that sign. If visitors with glasses spend more time at the sign than other users, perhaps a font size change could enhance the adverts readability, for example.

The sign was reportedly developed by facial recognition technology company Kairos. The company says the billboard helps businesses identify who their customers are and whether or not displays are reaching the target audience.

For businesses, identifying whether or not their marketing is reaching their intended audience can help companies reach the right people quickly. The idea is similar to tracking users online so advertisers can send diaper ads to users surfing parenting sites or travel deals to users who recently Googled a particular destination. The physical sign doesn’t appear to be tracking potential customers by name — or even by an assigned number like some online tracking systems — but instead seems designed to measure the effectiveness of an in-person advertisement.

Editors' Recommendations

Microsoft won’t sell facial recognition technology to police

Following in other tech giants’ footsteps, Microsoft announced it would not sell its facial recognition surveillance software to law enforcement. 

Microsoft President Brad Smith made the announcement Thursday during a live interview with The Washington Post. 

Read more
Amazon bans police from using facial recognition tech Rekognition for 1 year
Amazon Logo

Amazon has barred police from using its facial recognition technology for one year.

In a company blog post Wednesday, Amazon said it will implement a one-year "moratorium on police use of Amazon’s facial recognition technology" -- known as Rekognition.

Read more
IBM will no longer develop or research facial recognition tech
IBM's Summit Supercomputer

IBM CEO Arvind Krishna says the company will no longer develop or offer general-purpose facial recognition or analysis software. In a June 8 letter addressed to Congress and written in support of the Justice in Policing Act of 2020, Krishna advocates for new reforms that support the responsible use of technology -- and combat systematic racial injustice and police misconduct.

“IBM firmly opposes and will not condone uses of any technology, including facial recognition technology offered by other vendors, for mass surveillance, racial profiling, violations of basic human rights and freedoms, or any purpose which is not consistent with our values and Principles of Trust and Transparency,” wrote Krishna in the letter.

Read more