Consumer questions use of AI-driven billboards in shopping malls

(Source: Bigstock)

Advocacy group Consumer NZ is worried about the lack of transparency surrounding the use of artificial intelligence-powered digital billboards in New Zealand’s shopping malls.

SmartScreens ‘smart billboards’ are now being deployed in Westfield shopping centres in Auckland and Christchurch. They evaluate passers-by’s biometric data and use it to provide real-time adverts based on their age, gender, and even mood.

“We are seriously concerned New Zealanders are unaware they are being filmed and their biometric data analysed, with advertising targeted at them on that basis,” said Jon Duffy, Consumer’s CEO.

“People should be told when they’re being targeted with personalised advertising – especially in public places.”

The watchdog discovered shoppers may be unaware of the data being collected about them and how that data is being used.

The biometric billboards use software developed by Quividi, a French business that measures more than 1.5 billion people globally each month.

Quividi says its system can reliably assess an individual’s gender and age based on facial traits. The technology can even forecast customers’ moods, whether they are pleased, sad, or somewhere in between.

While marketers believe biometric billboards can benefit customers by displaying more relevant advertisements, Consumer NZ says it feels the benefits for stores vastly outweigh those for consumers.

“Advances in AI technologies are incredibly valuable for marketers and retailers as they seek to understand and influence consumer behaviour,” said Duffy.

“The use of this technology is relatively simple and benign right now. However, if its use is normalised, without genuine consent or knowledge on the part of consumers, more invasive and potentially dangerous uses will become easier to implement.”

Consumer NZ reports customers want to see improved regulation of surveillance technology, like biometric billboards, including:

• Prominent and clear disclosure when biometric billboard technology is used in public places such as railway stations, supermarkets, and popular street corners.

• Restrictions on the use of facial recognition technology, which evaluates people on sensitive factors such as gender identity and race.

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