Facial recognition soon in Sweden stores – to find out Swedish shopping habits . . .
BIG BROTHER WILL SOON BE WATCHING YOU. AT LEAST IN SOME STORES IN SWEDEN. Maybe not Big Brother, but new developments have nonetheless unleashed a big debate about consumer privacy in Sweden. We all know that CCTV cameras inside of stores are nothing new and have principally been used in order to catch theft or used for security purposes. Perhaps it is better to ask our readers a question before we begin, and if we take this concept a bit further. How would you feel if you walk into a store and the store has allowed for footage of your face, with advanced facial recognition, to be sent for marketing analysis to track your shopping habits? It’s already happening. . .
The story begins in April of this year when an American facial recognition company arrived in Sweden to help big retail companies to analyze who exactly is visiting their stores and what sorts of demographics, preferences and habits they all share. If you think this was some boring pixel-framed amateur tracking technique, you are wrong. The technology captures your face in a camera and converts it into an entire pattern. The pattern is then analyzed by a software that, for example, can understand which gender you are, how old you look to be and whether you look happy or sad. The technology, whether you like it or not, doesn’t stop there. The technology knows whether you are a loyal customer who has been there before, based on the pattern created in your face. For those that have a phobia of some “sci-fi dystopian future” – there is at least something that will allow you to breathe out a sigh of relief. For the moment, the technology does not record any personal data or the like . . . but could that soon change?
One of the companies behind this is the Silicon Valley company Deep North, which in Sweden is run by the founders of Ivyrevel, Dejan and Aleks Subosic. The company works with facial recognition, body recognition and other forms of AI solutions. Deep North is currently working with companies in the European market and will this year roll out a pilot project in Sweden together with AMF Real Estate and central galleries of Stockholm. There are some other companies currently collaborating with Deep North, but the exact names of those companies, for the moment, remains a mystery. . .
Why is this all happening? The line between the offline and online worlds are becoming closer and closer with every year that passes. However, the principal reason that retailers are doing this is because of something much more pessimistic from their side and something that they have been dreading in relation to this new digitalization: the threat of their stores simply dying because of it. This has caused Swedish retail chains and malls to desperately look for ways to attract customers back as those customers are spending more time online and looking towards e-retailers. How can physical stores compete with the e-versions when the latter simply has access to much more data about the customers? If you think about it, while cameras record your physical self, e-retailers already have access to your consumer profile and can already track many of your characteristics. This new “hot technique” of facial recognition is something that could potentially assist the stores to get a better understanding of their customers but, of course, people are still very much afraid of being monitored in such a direct way. . .
Outside of Sweden, facial recognition in stores is already a reality in several places. In Finland, for example, similar technology has been installed in the Rajalla På Gränsen shopping center already in 2017. The Finnish company Valfi is behind it. 7-Eleven in Thailand has invested in the technology and installed it in all its stores around the country. There, they not only follow the customers’ shopping patterns, but also check that the staff are doing what they are supposed to. Then, we of course know about the situation in China where facial recognition is growing like never before. Alibaba comes to mind. The challenge and red-line when it comes to the situation in Sweden is that the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) could be breached, but the issue is still being negotiated amongst local authorities and inspectors. Right now, work is being done within the EU on how to interpret the rules around this and so far there is no practice. For the time being, the technology will be scheduled for implementation as planned. Despite the debate surrounding this new introduction, Sweden should get ready as consumerism has shifted into the next gear.
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