A couple of months ago, the video game system Kinect made headlines with the upcoming release of the Xbox One, which was to reportedly possess the capabilities to ‘spy on’ the activities in a household even when the system was not in use. The company has since modified some of the restrictions and abilities of the system, but the Kinect software is still making waves in discussions regarding the possible invasion of privacy, and this time, it has nothing to do with video games.
The Xbox Kinect video game system uses motion-tracking technology to monitor the actions of those it comes in contact with. It’s the kind of technology that registers the movements of a player as they interact with a specific game, such as use their hands and feet as controls. Very soon, this sort of technology could be making its way to a grocery store near you with the help of a new Mondelez International program called Smart Shelf. Mondelez hopes to use the program to track shoppers as they browse the shelves at a supermarket, while making their next decision on whether or not to indulge in a snack item.
The program uses the Microsoft program Kinect for Windows to video-record the shopping habits of consumers, especially when it comes to the back-and-forth rationalization regarding the types of foods typically considered as ‘snacky.’ The motion-tracking technology would be used to evaluate how customers shop for brands associated with Mondelez, such as Oreos, Ritz crackers, and Triscuits.
The company says the program is for quality assurance, but how do we really know if the motion-tracking starts and ends with monitoring the kinds of snacks that a customer decides to purchase? What if the system ‘listens’ in on conversations between shoppers? What if the program stores the information collected on shopper – where does it go? If information doesn’t identify consumers, will there be safeguards to make sure glitches won’t reveal identities?
A representative for Mondelez stated that they had a goal to “understand how shoppers see, scan, spot, show interest and select products from the shelf in the store.” The company hopes to use this information to deliver targeted advertisements, such as play a video or audio based on the demographics gathered. They hope to send out ads that can influence the kinds of purchases that a shopper may make.
If this kind of ‘spying’ on consumers sounds familiar, it’s because it isn’t the first time that a company has experimented with targeted advertisements based upon the information collected by advanced technology. Last year, Almax released the EyeSeeMannequin, which used cameras and microphones to track the actions of shoppers within department stores. The data collected was sent back to the store and retail brands, which is the same way that Smart Shelf plans to transmit information back to Mondelez.
Mondelez states that a customer’s privacy will not be infringed upon by Smart Shelf. The technology will supposedly only analyze facial features to determine a consumer’s gender and approximate age, and a spokesperson for the claims that the images will not be saved. An attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation suggests that Mondelez should reevaluate their use of the technology, as they may face obstacles with the public. It’s not going to be an easy road to travel when trying to get everyone on board to accept commercial surveillance, as its generally associated with breaching one’s privacy…and that is not a far-fetched concern to have.