Big Brother Goes Brick-and-Mortar

by: The Knowledge Group

April 30, 2019


Consumer privacy problems are not just online these days. Physical stores are trying to compete with e-commerce and targeted advertising on the web. And they’ve joined the race to influence consumption—with technology that pries into our personal habits.

Stores can now install almost invisible cameras that guess customers’ ages, genders, and even mood states. The idea is to glean information to target individual shoppers with real-time advertising on not-so-invisible video screens.

Grocery giant Kroger is testing the systems out. So are a number of Walgreens stores, where video screens run advertisements on drink cooler doors. Above the refrigerator, handles are cameras that can (if Walgreens decides to deploy them) guess our ages and track our irises to follow the customer’s gaze. It’s all about keeping visuals in front of shoppers and getting us to buy what tempts us.

Even anonymous data collection—the companies say they don’t store recordings—can be as intrusive as it is manipulative.

Data Collection and Ethics

With video technology constantly advancing, along with rapid strides in machine learning, the lack of clear boundaries for what marketing-related cameras can and cannot glean from us creates a significant consumer privacy question.

What are companies’ obligations to their customers when technology such as this is readily available to them? Are the fundamentals of ethics in the data privacy arena being changed as marketing embraces unprecedented technology? What abuses can occur as information is recorded? How far can retailers go before lawsuits and lawmakers set limits?

Lawyers and businesses should be aware of the new developments shaping the data security and privacy landscape and prepare for changes to come.

On Thursday, June 20, 2019, from noon until 2 p.m. (ET), The Knowledge Group will discuss this and other issues in our live webcast Ethical Obligations in Data Security: Significant Compliance Practices. This CLE session will discuss and explore concerns in the areas of data, privacy, and cybersecurity. We hope you’ll join us.