statue of liberty
Making eye longer a liberty!
The next time you take a trip to the mall, make sure you give those man­nequins a big smile. The sur­veil­lance industry's lat­est recruit—joining the ranks of the Statue of Lib­erty, vend­ing machines, Kinect, and a litany of other seem­ingly innocu­ous retail products—is store man­nequins. The $245 bil­lion dol­lar lux­ury goods indus­try cur­rently avails itself of five com­pa­nies in Europe and the U.S. that use the Eye­See poly­styrene frame man­nequins, whose eyes are equipped with police grade face-recognition cameras.

Ital­ian man­nequin maker Almax SpA sup­plies these bionic odd­i­ties, offer­ing com­pa­nies the holy grail of retail: "per­son­al­iz­ing" their sales offerings.

facial recognition
Your personal barcode: facial recognition software produces a "faceprint" that can be used for public surveillance, border security, crime fighting, NSA database tracking...and it is not foolproof!
More than just sur­veil­lance cameras

Most shop­pers think store cam­eras are just used to detect and deter shoplifters, but now some stores are track­ing shop­pers to gather infor­ma­tion about tar­get mar­kets, and what prod­ucts shop­pers like and don't like.

Shop­per­cep­tion is another high-tech com­pany offer­ing this type of tech­nol­ogy, and it's being used at large retail­ers like Wal­mart. This tech­nol­ogy uses motion-sensor cam­eras placed in the eyes of man­nequins. These cam­eras come equipped with facial recog­ni­tion soft­ware and track cus­tomers' demo­graph­ics, what they pur­chase, and how long it takes con­sumers to buy cer­tain items.

Another pop­u­lar tech­nol­ogy uses heat maps that are put on top of secu­rity cam­era images to see what items cus­tomers are drawn to the most. Dif­fer­ent col­ors like orange or red detect inter­est in a prod­uct; this is deter­mined by the length of time the con­sumer has stood in front of and han­dled the product.

Ques­tions of privacy

Although shop­per sur­veil­lance devices hid­den in a mannequin's eyes are not viewed as a pri­vacy vio­la­tion by many, some retail­ers are upping the ante and have begun track­ing cus­tomers via infor­ma­tion from their cell phones. Many see this as an inva­sion of privacy.

But retail­ers like Nord­strom, who use WiFi sig­nals from cus­tomers' cell phones to track shop­ping habits, argue that it is a great way to learn about cus­tomer habits and how they can improve the ser­vices offered in the retail setting.

New pri­vacy laws and code-of-conduct agree­ments are gov­ern­ing the use of retail sur­veil­lance prac­tices. These agree­ments are designed to pro­tect cus­tomers, while also allow­ing retail­ers to col­lect data for mar­ket­ing reasons.

Among con­sumers, cell phone track­ing has proven the most trou­ble­some, and many feel this prac­tice should only be con­ducted with full dis­clo­sure and per­mis­sion given by the con­sumer. This is espe­cially impor­tant because shop­pers don't know how the track­ing infor­ma­tion is stored, used and sold. With recent dis­clo­sures regard­ing cor­po­rate and gov­ern­ment col­lu­sion in data min­ing oper­a­tions, the motives and ethics behind tar­geted mar­ket­ing must be reexamined.

Comment: Well, folks, good luck with that! Pandora's box is open. (By the way, Pandora is partial to pink silk, size 6, but won't pay more than $29.95.)

The fol­low­ing are also involved in feed­ing the 100 bil­lion dol­lar data min­ing industry:

Statue of Liberty

That's right, Lady Lib­erty, the mono­lithic struc­ture that greets our poor, tired, hud­dled masses, is part of Big Brother's sur­veil­lance enter­prise. Actu­ally, it has been since 2002, when early face-recognition soft­ware was installed. Since then, the tech­nol­ogy has evolved and so has the amount of money infused into the sur­veil­lance indus­try. In 2012, con­trac­tor Total Recall Corp. out­fit­ted our fair lady with FaceVACS-VideoScan soft­ware, which tracks mil­lions of New York­ers' faces in real-time, pin­point­ing race, gen­der, eth­nic­ity, age, and even "client behavior."

There's cer­tainly a bit of irony in the gov­ern­ment using a larger than life sym­bol of lib­erty and democ­racy for arguably uncon­sti­tu­tional domes­tic sur­veil­lance practices.

Comment: No kidding! Liberty at a price. Well, when you think about it, this is paying a price for no liberty. How good a deal is that?

Vend­ing Machines

In Tulsa, a vend­ing machine rob­bery was solved after the crim­i­nals' faces were cap­tured on a cam­era sit­u­ated inside. The cam­eras are owned and installed by the vend­ing machine com­pa­nies them­selves. The pur­pose - besides law enforce­ment - is unknown but is likely related to tar­get mar­ket research.

Comment: Twinkies are watching you.


Every­body knows that Kinect, the motion-sensing con­sole fea­tured in mil­lions of fam­ily liv­ing rooms, has a cam­era. Of course it does, that's how it senses your move­ments, but what if you found out that not only is Kinect record­ing and stor­ing your activ­ity, it may also be record­ing and stor­ing the con­ver­sa­tions you have while you're play­ing — and even while it's turned off?

Microsoft offi­cially denies that Kinect records con­ver­sa­tions, but then in the same sen­tence they brag about the device's abil­ity to read your heart­beat and rec­og­nize indi­vid­ual voices!


The com­pany Immer­sive Labs has cre­ated soft­ware for dig­i­tal bill­boards that allows them to watch your face and then tai­lor a spe­cific ad based on your facial features.

Jell-O, Adi­das and Kraft

Jell-O, Adi­das and Kraft all use facial recog­ni­tion soft­ware in super­mar­kets to help them craft more effec­tive TV com­mer­cials. The creepi­est part of this is the cam­eras are actu­ally linked up to Face­book as well, so the com­pany could hypo­thet­i­cally cou­ple their video sur­veil­lance with social media pro­files for an even juicier data grab.

The Big Bang Theory

As of April 2013, Ver­i­zon had applied to patent a new cable box that uses infrared cam­eras and micro­phones to track the activ­i­ties of view­ers dur­ing blocks of The Big Bang Theory.

Comment: Maybe the creepiest of all...a cable box that spies on viewers - peering directly into your home to monitor habits, comments and reactions. Specifically the technology can monitor sleeping, eating, exercising, reading, displays of affection and such. For this incredible invasion of privacy, here's hoping you were just sitting there...

The City of Seattle

A new appa­ra­tus that is capa­ble of hi-tech sur­veil­lance (and more) will be installed at many of the major inter­sec­tions in down­town Seat­tle. So what, all cities have sur­veil­lance, right? Well, rumor has it that there is a new tech­nol­ogy being used here that involves tri­an­gu­lat­ing our cell phones, so that we essen­tially become rogue devices.

Comment: If your phone is not part of the Aruba mesh network, you are detected as a rogue device and the system will still capture your data, such as MAC address (media access control), location and RSSI information. The local police department can blanket an entire downtown or an entire city.