Smile – You’re on Facedeals Camera!
It sounds like something straight out of a sci-fi novel but Facedeals new facial recognition camera is already being tested in stores across the nation. Is this controversial new technology the wave of the future or a frightening invasion of personal privacy? As a social media management firm, we reported on exactly this type of technology just a few months ago but reactions remained mixed; some small business owners believe this is exactly the type of cutting edge technology able to increase sales in a tough economy while others fear the potential for abuse is simply too large of a risk to take…at least until the legal situation catches up to the changes in technology. In today’s article we are going to cover the good, bad and potentially problematic aspects of this stunning facial recognition technology designed to maximize brick-and-mortar sales via the use of social media surveillance.
For those readers unfamiliar with Facedeals, a bit of background information is required. Facedeals is the first commercial release of a new type of social media surveillance designed with sales in mind. Designed by RedPepper, an integrated advertising agency, the technology scans consumer faces, identifies the associated Facebook profile, checks the client in and/or offers specialized/individualized discounts. Unlike security measures designed to identify and track criminal elements, social sales surveillance is designed to immerse the client into the shopping experience while simultaneously providing the shop owner with important information about the client. Facedeals is not associated with Facebook but instead, simply uses photographs of clients to tap into their social media profiles…primarily Facebook at this point. Shoppers must agree to use the system and allow the application to “learn” their face over a period of time. Variations in appearance may minimally impact the effectiveness of the system at first, for example, the use (or non-use) of eyeglasses. Once the system has learned the face of subscribers, it will then be used to offer special discounts, promotional offers, loyalty credits and other incentives.
Since the service is entirely voluntary, what could possibly be considered a problem? According to critics of the new social surveillance camera’s the fact that everyone is initially scanned isn’t acceptable. Facedeal camera’s do indeed scan each face against the database of opt-in users and subscribers; if the opt-in isn’t located, the picture is ignored. Advocates say it is no different than any other camera or surveillance system used in retail settings across the nation. Once a participating client is identified, the various deals and/or offers associated with the location are dispatched and delivered via mobile phone. The clients must allow the entire application to authorize just like any other Facebook application; once you walk into the store or other setting, the camera captures your image, compares it to prior pictures for reliance, records the check-in time, location and stores a copy in the database before delivering the deal to your phone.
Convenient or Creepy?
So, is Facedeals and similar social surveillance the ultimate convenience or just downright creepy? It really depends on who you ask. Early client adopters have been minimal in part due to the fact that the technology is still in the beta testing stage with only a limited number of retail/commercial clients. With so few discounts and offers, it’s a hard sale to obtain user consent without a clear-cut benefit. On the other hand, it may also be an early indication that people simply don’t want to use something they perceive to be an invasive type of technology. When Facebook originally announced the release of their facial recognition software, many consumers were outraged…for at least a week or two. Eventually the majority capitulated and simply accepted it as part of the cost of doing business with Facebook. Very few actually took the radical step of removing themselves from full participation in the world’s largest social media network.
However, with the proliferation of social shopping and surveillance cameras clients may grow accustomed to the ease and convenience of check-in, loyalty reward programs and other incentives. Shop keepers will obviously enjoy the ability to target new clients with special incentives designed to remain in contact or provide follow-up after initial contact. On the other hand, safeguards relate to the selling of private information, security of personal contacts and other concerns may initially be left in the hands of the provider with little to no government oversight.
Last but not least, a sub-group of consumers have already vowed to refrain from social media surveillance programs due to religious and/or privacy concerns. Will the failure to participate in social media programs eventually be considered a “red flag” in much the same way that the CIA/FBI are increasingly recognizing the little/no social media participation as an early warning indicator for felons such as the recent Colorado shooting? Only time will tell but one thing is certain, social media is rapidly moving beyond the boundaries of the Internet; in the not so distant future, expect to see social media making major inroads into both online and traditional brick-n-mortar sales, service and support.