December 7, 2011
Article By: Richard Lebovitz

Yesterday the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) released “Seeing is ID’ng,” a report on facial recognition and privacy.According to the CDT's Harley Geiger in his blog post on the release, the report describes the state of facial recognition technology and its commercial applications, the lack of laws that address facial recognition and policy approaches to preserving consumer privacy.

For reasons of perception, the digital signage industry prefers to use the term “anonymous video analytics (AVA),” with an emphasis on the word “anonymous” to underscore that only data and not actual images are captured.

CDT’s report came a day in advance of a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) workshop exploring the privacy implications of facial recognition and potential policy solutions.

Geiger, who participated on a privacy panel at DSE 2010, will present the CDT report at the workshop. In his blog, he noted that the FTC workshop was prompted by a letter from Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, directing the FTC to develop recommendations on privacy protection for facial recognition.

Geiger worked with the Digital Signage Federation in drafting that organization’s Digital Signage Privacy Standards for the industry. A number of prominent digital signage industry experts, including Bill Gerba, CEO of WireSpring, and Laura Davis-Taylor, SVP, Managing Director, BBDO SHOPWORK, previously developed POPAI’s Recommended Code of Conduct for Consumer Tracking Research, which also addressed the issue of facial recognition and privacy.

According to Geiger, CDT’s report urges the FTC to consider a mix of government regulation, industry self-regulation, and privacy enhancing technologies that can give consumers more control over how facial recognition is used without unduly limiting the benefits of the technology or burdening free expression.

As AVA has been heralded as a key to serving up personalized ads and informational content to consumers, similar to the way in which ads are served to Tom Cruise’s character in the film “Minority Report,” we expect the FTC’s decision to have a decisive impact on the future use of this technology and the ways in which digital signage may be used for advertising and marketing.

The decision also will impact the investments companies such as Intel (which acquired CognoVision), TruMedia and others have already made in the development of this technology, as well as the investments many digital signage software providers have made in incorporating AVA into their content management platforms.

The issue of facial recognition and privacy is much larger than digital signage, but as Laura Davis-Taylor points out in response to a DSE Question of the Month on privacy issues, “Data is the heartbeat of digital marketing today – and in the future.”

Furthermore, as Davis-Taylor says, “If we lose the ability to track and optimize our networks due to privacy backlash, we fall into a very dangerous media category for buyers – one with little ability to prove its worth.”

Thanks to the DSF and POPAI, reasonable voluntary industry guidelines are in place. Whether that is enough for the FTC and privacy protection groups, we’ll have to wait a while longer to find out.

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