You’re being watched

December 22, 2008 at 2:00 am 2 comments

peemxmasRemember those fabulous advertising screens in Minority Report? The ones that flashed a personalised ad as you passed by?  As Tom Cruise’s character was passing by a digital billboard, I think it suggested he needed a beer or some other drink. Actually, I think that film is to blame for my distrust of anything smacking of surveillance, tracking or monitoring. But the Minority Report’s digital advertising screens are not in the future; they’re here now (sort of).

Yep, Tokyo train station now boasts a flat-panel display that flashes advertisements about books and CDs. A camera will scan passengers to check out how many people are looking at the panel and its adverts by using image detection software . The last time I was in Tokyo (in the 1990s and I won’t now go back due to the biometrics you meet at Japanese immigration), I remember being astounded at the flashy digital signs perched high up office buildings – reminded me of those opening scenes in Blade Runner.

The Japanese billboards and technology aren’t quite as sophisticated as the retina-scanning and personalised advertising going on in Minority Report but it’s just a matter of time before the technology is available. In fact, I was intrigued enough to do a spot of research and found that a touch screen, interactive panel is available at Chicago’s O’Hare airport.

The Accenture Interactive Network allows you to move windows around with your hands and displays weather and news.

And when you think about it, Amazon is already offering pervasive, personalised ads that suggest you should buy this and that based on your previous purchasing patterns. Retinal scanners are already here (used in airports) so think about this – you’re cruising through a shopping mall, a retinal scanner scans your eyeballs and identifies you, a personalised ad will be thrown onto your mobile (mobiles will probably be old technology by this stage though) or projected onto the floor in front of you or a nearby wall. The retinal scanning technology will be linked up to a central database (let’s face it: central databases are already here) and all information about you will be accessed in a zillionth of a second. Supermarkets already know about your purchasing behaviour; Amazon profiles your reading habits; our eBay purchases profile what clothes or handbags or collectibles we buy. One day, it will be a very simple matter for retina scanning technology to access the mother-lode of all databases to call up every last bit of information about you and me!

Mmmmm….I decided to remind myself of the personalised ads and whiz bang stuff that happened in Minority Report. The ad was in fact for Guinness and Cruise’s character, John Anderton, walks through a foyer showing a holographic display of a fetching-looking woman in a swimsuit (American Express) amongst so many other personalised ads. I found this YouTube video:

Take the ThinkingShift challenge – just how many ads can you spot in this ad-soaked video? Did you see that even John Anderton’s name is displayed on the American Express card, complete with expiry date? Actually, watching again, I am now reminded of how this film sparked off my concern for our civil liberties. John Anderton, who was a member of the Precrime police force in 2054, was attempting to escape the iris scanners in the city. The precogs (humans with precognitive abilities) predicted he would commit murder within 36 hours. And so the chase began. The scene in the YouTube video above was the one that had me hyperventilating. Just imagine if you are innocent of a crime but future authorities are tracking you – how easy it will be in the future with retina scanning and other invasive technologies for you to be located.

I found that the French have conducted trials where billboards call mobile phone users in Paris telling them of special offers and information and interactive advertising technology in the UK, known as BluScreen, identifies passers-by through their Bluetooth-enabled phones and presents them with customised ads.

Yikes: off for a lie-down!


Entry filed under: surveillance, Surveillance society. Tags: , , .

Money, money, money How Curious!

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