Fact-checking Facedeals: A little background about the retail-focused consumer scanner

facedeals camera facial recognition technology

Recently, a new device and platform called Facedeals created quite a bit of Minority Report buzz. The product, designed by integrated advertising industry RedPepper, is a camera put into retailers that scans consumers faces, identifies their Facebook profiles, checks them in, and can then offer discounts.

The natural reaction here is to cry privacy infringements: Facebook’s face recognition feature has been criticized since its launch, and it’s clear that users aren’t quite comfortable with the technology yet. So it’s a given that RedPepper’s Facedeals has been met with quite a bit of privacy and identity fear-mongering.

RedPepper, which thinks of itself as “an ad agency by day and an invention lab by night,” says that it’s interested in “connecting the ‘face’ to Facebook.” The company’s CEO, Tim McMullen helped us answer some of the more pressing Facedeals questions.

Q: Is RedPepper working with Facebook on this project?
A: According to McMullen, while Facedeals is not affiliated with Facebook, the company is familiar with Facebook’s guidelines for a device like this. So while in the future it’s possible we could see this thing get off the ground with a little help with Facebook, at the moment the two are entirely independent.

Q: Would Facedeals be opt-in?
A: I can’t stress enough how very much the answer to this questions is “yes.” In order for Facedeals to scan and identify your likeness, you would need to download and install the app, and opt-in. McMullen also says that there’s a double opt-in step to make sure no one who doesn’t want to use Facedeals is.

Q: What happens with the images that Facedeals scans?
A: There was some hesitation when Facebook first launched its own face recognition technology that this meant we were heading toward a world where all you needed was a photo of someone, anyone, and that you could search and find identities by it. This made me ask RedPepper about what happens to the images that Facedeals is scanning and using. “Once a user has approved their likeness for matching purposes and it is stored in our database, we make no efforts to store additional information,” McMullen says. “We have no intention of selling the database to third parties.”

Q: Could this help Facebook Offers become the feature it just hasn’t managed to be yet?
A: Alright, this one isn’t very user-focused, but it’s still relevant. Facebook shut down Deals, only to relaunch the effort with Offers, but it’s been an area of struggle. McMullen points out that Facedeals will let retailers know, without question, what deals and offers are sticking and what isn’t. It also means patrons aren’t relying on hit or miss deal-a-day emails.

Q: When can we expect to see Facedeals in the flesh?
A: It’s in product development and beta testing right now, and I’m told to check back in September when the iPhone 5 is released. I also asked for some under-the-hood details on how precisely Facedeals connects with Facebook and reads user images, but I’m told to check back when testing has been finalized.

And there you have it. Ultimately, you can expect Facedeals to hit a store near you within the near future, and you can also rest easy knowing it’s opt-out and available via download only. It’s still admittedly a very futuristic piece of augmented reality, and as such, it’s going to take a lot of getting used to from consumers. Convincing the general population of its merits remains an uphill battle.