Last year, Cadillac Fairview was caught testing mall signage with facial recognition across Canada. Then, a week ago, Nicole Nguyen of Buzzfeed reported that Singapore Airlines and American Airlines use seatback entertainment systems with built-in cameras; both companies said that the cameras were just a component of the commodity part and had never been activated.
Now, Paul Kafasis writes about Cooler Screens’ commercial refrigerator doors. They have cameras in the bezel, and software to estimate the age and gender of anyone standing in front of it and even track that person’s irises.1
How is this sort of thing not tightly controlled, if not entirely illegal? Not every surface needs a camera or a microphone; we don’t need to be tracked everywhere, especially for silly marketing purposes. There’s also virtually no consent: if you stand in front of one of these doors, your age is being estimated and your eyes are being tracked.
There is a glimmer of hope, though. After CBC News reported the existence of Cadillac Fairview’s creepy mall directories, the company said that they would stop tracking visitors. Merely bringing to light these practices and drawing attention to them seems to trigger retailers to have some second thoughts about whether they want to use them.
But outrage isn’t enough; stronger regulation is desperately needed. Because, while Cooler Screens says that they do not retain camera recordings and the airlines say that they’re not using the cameras in every seatback, both of those situations could easily change. The absolute baseline for private businesses recording customers is that they post signs advising them that video cameras are in use. That’s simply not good enough for instances where that video may be more deeply analyzed for customer-specific marketing, shared with third parties, or when cameras are used in enclosed spaces like airplanes where there are few alternative choices.
The purple prose of startups like these never fails to make me vomit a little in my mouth. Cooler Screens’ “About” page proudly proclaims that they are — emphasis mine — “technologists, designers, merchants and dreamers“. They’re building a screen into a door and pairing it with dystopian software. Gross. ↩︎