Invisible Biometrics Month: Marketing Matters

facial recognitionOne of the frontiers of invisible biometrics is the marketing space. Contextual information on key demographics is incredibly valuable in a connected world that is increasingly being filled with niches. Meanwhile, getting a new product in front of a target consumer is becoming increasingly difficult with subscription services like Netflix decimating the audience of broadcast advertising. Essentially, marketing is becoming more targeted by necessity, and facial recognition – one of the invisible biometrics we will be focusing on this month – has the potential to satisfactorily address this marketing landscape in flux.

The benefits of facial recognition in marketing deployments sound like the stuff of a marketer’s sci-fi dream. The potential is wide ranging, offering solutions to address questions of best possible sign placement and customer service optimization, and can carry along the added benefit of added retail security.

NeoFace Watch from NEC Corporation of America (NECAM) is an example of a biometric solution that can provide all of the above to marketers and retailers. The facial recognition system has the ability to match faces of customers who enter a store against a VIP database in order to notify customer service staff of their arrival. At the same time, any person who has been banned from a store can also be flagged for security purposes.

One of NeoFace Watch’s more interesting features though, is its application to digital signage. Made possible through collaboration with Microsoft, the facial recognition from NECAM can scan the faces of multiple people in a passing crowd and identify relevant demographic data. The associated digital sign then changes its advertisement to best appeal to the majority of a crowd. It’s a biometric marketing solution that has the potential to redefine the way physical ad space is bought, sold and presented, and the same goes for the products on display.

An important aspect of this latter mode is that when deployed in a digital sign context NeoFace Watch is only gathering anonymous demographic data (age, gender, etc). It’s an important distinction that favors privacy, and one that has proven very controversial in recent efforts to regulate the use of biometrics in marketing.

The value of being able to identify potential customers is great and as such, a conflict has arisen surrounding the limits marketers should observe when deploying facial recognition technology. Essentially, the argument breaks down to two sides: one would have access to any captured facial recognition data regardless of the subject’s informed consent while the other, more privacy minded side, would prefer people maintain the right to their own face and name.

This is the very argument that broke up a cross-industry group tasked to build a code of conduct  for retailers and marketers surrounding the use of facial recognition. On June 15 of this year privacy advocates in the group withdrew en masse in protest.

According to a statement issued by the dissenting parties – which include the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the American Civil Liberties Union – private interests in the group refused  to agree to the implementation of a standard of customer consent for biometric data collection.

The statement summarizes the privacy argument:

“At a base minimum, people should be able to walk down a public street without fear that companies they’ve never heard of are tracking their every movement – and identifying them by name – using facial recognition technology. Unfortunately, we have been unable to obtain agreement even with that basic, specific premise. The position that companies never need to ask permission to use biometric identification is at odds with consumer expectations, current industry practices, as well as existing state law.”

It’s an indictment that highlights the power that invisible biometrics have in the arena of marketing and also implies their perceived value to the private interests that would deploy them. The frontier that we have come to in biometric marketing starts here at this impasse of ideologies: that of companies with vested interest in consumer data versus the organizations dedicated to protecting our rights to retain that data privately.

A middle ground of consent can be achieved, but the discussion needs to happen first. There is an appeal of targeted advertising that has worked on social media platforms like Facebook, and it’s driven by the agreement that personal data is the cost of using the service. If something similar can be achieved for real world deployments of invisible biometrics in marketing, then everyone can benefit from the power of facial recognition technology in advertising.


Stay with FindBiometrics throughout the rest of July as we continue to delve deeper into the world of invisible biometrics. Join in the conversation by following us on Twitter and using the hashtag #FBinvisible.

July 8, 2015 – by Peter B. Counter