Augmented surveilance getting closer to reality

pianissimo (not in B&W)

This week Toronto police proudly announced they would be using face recognition software to identify and catch G20 hooligans. In Tokyo this week, a company announced of new billboards that use cameras to recognize age/sex of passers by and serve-up demographically targeted advertisements. Having networked cameras passively watch us as we move through public spaces is certainly nothing new.

What is interesting to me about the Toronto police example is that they are tying together disparate image databases from both the public and private sector to personally identify suspects. Where you out there dancing on a smashed-up police cruiser in protest? Well certainly there’s going to be at least one high-res picture of you amongst the 89 thousand (!) #G20-tagged pictures uploaded to the internet (the 89k is just from flickr) or from one of the police’s own CCDTV cameras. And if you’ve, say crossed a border or used a bank machine any time in the last few years, your jig is up Mr. anarchist.

If we weren’t there already, we have reached that point where all electronic eyes are now belong to the government. In fact everytime we whip out our cell phone cameras, and everytime we check-in to some geolocative service, we are contributing to the cloud’s increasingly panoptical perspective of what’s going on in all places, all of the time. If connected, all the surveillance networks, all the checkpoints like border crossings and bank machines and all the self-volunteered social media activity can add up to one big all-seeing picture. From a civil liberties perspective you may have good or bad feelings about that.

But just imagine the marketing applications.

“hey there Jane! several public cameras noticed that you were window shopping for jeans at the mall last week, we recognized your face from your public facebook profile, how would you like this pop-up ad for Levis?”

I think, technically at least, Google could pull something off like that pretty easily.

Of course in Canada we have some pretty stern regulations on privacy. Except when required by law (ahem, see above) one cannot freely share/sell/trade personally identifiable information, not without express consent. But people being people, how many do you think would trade away some fundamental public privacy rights for that free slice of pizza, or great exciting (and eerily relevant) discount offers delivered anytime on demand to your mobile device?

photo credit: mdumlao98