[LINK] Shopper tracking face privacy concerns

Bernard Robertson-Dunn brd at iimetro.com.au
Tue Mar 4 18:52:11 EST 2008

Shopper tracking face privacy concerns
Ben Woodhead
March 04, 2008
The Australian IT

Businesses and governments are preparing to deploy millions of sensors 
to monitor everything from water and energy consumption to retail 
shopping habits as they try to boost productivity and hone marketing 

Privacy advocates have cautioned businesses to start talking to the 
public now

Tiny video cameras, thermometers and radio frequency identification tags 
are among the devices that will become ubiquitous in supermarkets, 
offices and farm paddocks as computer systems are pushed into new domains.

Privacy advocates have cautioned that businesses need to start talking 
to the public now about emerging monitoring systems or risk wasting 
money on expensive sensor networks that may be rejected by consumers.

According to a report on technology trends over the next decade, The 
Future of Business 2008-18, many of the developments won't reach 
commercial maturity for a number of years.

Others, such as computer-driven video analysis and voiceprint 
recognition systems, could routinely be used in shops and call centres 
as early as 2010, report author and S2 Intelligence managing director 
Bruce McCabe said.

"There's an awful lot of disruption around video generally. You can 
analyse it and search it, and that's coming very quickly," Dr McCabe 
said. "Video analytics is the next step. It's beyond search and it is 
capable of identifying people and what they're doing in the video. If 
you look at what they're doing with public sector activity in a 
law-enforcement context - say number plate recognition - all of those 
technologies are filtering into the mainstream."

Dr McCabe said it would be about two years before searching video, in 
much the same way web surfers used Google to search text on countless 
web pages, became common.

It would be as long as five years before retailers regularly used video 
technology to collect data on shoppers, such as whether they were 
shopping with their children and what goods they looked at.

Predictions in the report, issued this week, are based on 800 interviews 
with public and private sector computer scientists, IT managers and 
government and business executives.

They are designed to give business leaders a view of when heavily hyped 
technologies such as radio frequency identification may realistically be 
able to deliver on current promises.

RFID was expected eventually to enable supermarkets to automate checkout 
by using radio waves to scan the contents of shopping baskets, but 
item-level tagging would not arrive until about 2017, Dr McCabe said. 
Nevertheless RFID, along with video technology such as gaze tracking, 
would reshape in-store marketing.

Dr McCabe tipped that gaze tracking, which had been around, at least in 
experimental form, for more than 10 years, might be used regularly in 
supermarkets by 2013. It is likely that the technology would be linked 
to a new breed of in-store, advertising systems based on flatscreen 
television sets, to trigger, for example, ads for soft drink if a 
shopper puts a bag of potato chips in their trolley.

"There's so much money at stake and so much money is already put up for 
point-of-sale advertising by consumer goods manufacturers, that an awful 
lot of development is possible," Dr McCabe said. "Retailers have been 
talking about it for a while but there really is action now, using 
camera feeds to watch what shoppers are doing and then analysing it."

Australian Privacy Foundation chairman Roger Clarke cautioned that many 
predictions about technology never became reality and there were still 
many flaws in RFID, voice recognition and other systems. He said the 
business community needed to start talking to consumers now about 
emerging monitoring systems that could be seen as invading privacy.

"The public is upset and annoyed as more technology is foisted on them," 
Dr Clarke said. "There will be a serious rejection of already installed 
systems if businesses don't get their act together and talk to the 
public. I don't see an awful lot of evidence of them doing that, and 
some people are going to waste an awful lot of money."

Dr McCabe agreed privacy would be an issue and he expected some 
organisations, such as retailers, would overstep the bounds as they 
embraced video and radio technology.

He said a range of systems being developed were designed to remove 
information that could be used to identify individuals from video feeds 
and other data.

"There are a lot of technologies coming to support anonymising data - 
software that will strip out all identifiers and abstract just enough so 
that no one can trace back to the individual shopper," Dr McCabe said. 
"That's not to say there won't be hiccups along the way. No doubt 
someone's going to get it wrong and no doubt there is the odd company 
sharing everything when it shouldn't be."

Not all of the sensing technologies that are expected to become common 
over the next decade pose threats to consumer privacy, and some, such as 
water and energy monitoring networks, are essential for sustainability.

One system, based on the CSIRO's Water Resource Observation Network and 
under further development at the Bureau of Meteorology, will enter 
service in 2009. Others that rely on broadband over powerline technology 
to actively monitor energy consumption in individual appliances could be 
available in 2016, the Future of Business report predicts, although 
interval metering of household electricity use will arrive sooner.

"Ford and a few others are instrumenting all of their operations now, so 
they know where energy is being used and how they can control, monitor 
and report on it," Dr McCabe said. "It will trickle down to everybody, 
because small businesses will be part of a smarter energy grid in a few 

The sensors will eventually underpin carbon trading platforms by 
allowing organisations to track their energy use and carbon footprint in 
real time.

Macquarie Telecom has already installed electricity meters on every 
server rack in its data centre to manage consumption of energy.

Late last year Macquarie Telecom hosting managing director Aidan 
Tudehope said clients were increasingly asking the telco to prove its 
green credentials, and the answers it had come up with would soon 
determine whether or not it won contracts. "If you can't measure and 
monitor something, the chances are you're not going to change whatever 
it is you want to change," he said.


Bernard Robertson-Dunn
Sydney Australia
brd at iimetro.com.au

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