Anyone who has ever seen the science fiction thriller, Minority Report will probably remember the scene where Tom Cruise walks through the mall and hundreds of cameras outside every store scan and recognize his character, calling out to him by name. These cameras then start a program that tailors advertisements directly to Cruise as he walks by.
This is one of those scenes that illustrate a future that is trending towards dystopia because the people who live in that world never have any real privacy. In the movie, Cruise is attempting to avoid the law, which makes the fact that the mall is basically calling his name dozens of times all the more troubling. But even law abiding citizens can understand why the situation could be off-putting.
Perhaps the most off-putting aspect of this whole setup for me is that it appeared to be a technology that was actually well within the bounds of reality. The nicest thing about most science fiction stories is that most of the technology featured in them seem like they couldn’t possibly be implemented in our lifetimes. Minority Report was supposed to be set “in the not too distant future” which could be the reason they had tech that we could actually conceive of, but it was still a bit troubling that the talking, personalized advertisements seemed like something I might even see walking out of the theater the day I watched the flick.
While that tech turned out it was a few years away, it appears that it is now here. The system, called Facedeals. uses cameras that are loaded up with pictures pulled from Facebook. A recent Facedeals promotional video showed a group of friends walking into a bar and being offered low priced drinks after the system recognizes their pictures from the social networking site. It should be noted that Facedeals was not developed in cooperation with Facebook.
The creators of this particular system say that this is actually just the evolution of the Facebook check-in and that this will actually sweeten the pot when it comes to using the check-in feature. While Facebook is not directly involved in this particular project a recent software upgrade they undertook is the reason Facedeals even works. The social networking giant purchased Face.com, an Israeli that has perfected commercial face recognition software. The social networking site uses the Face.com software to allow users to better identify friends in pictures they upload.
The moral dilemma arises of course, when taking a few factors into account. The major problem privacy advocates are almost certainly going to have is that they are being singled out. While the application has said that Facebook users have to agree to use the Facedeals application, there is a wonder as to just how long this acceptance lasts. If 20 years from now you are out walking through a mall that is outfitted with Facedeals or another program like it, will you remember that you gave the ok? Should they even be allowed to use your permission from two decades ago? The larger problem is that once this kind of information is out there, does it become a “genie out of the bottle” type of situation? How secure is the server that accesses your Facebook account? What sort of information can be pulled if the server was hacked?
There seems to be a number of privacy issues that are getting blurred if not trampled on, with the Facedeals program. So far those issues haven’t been enough to stop the program in its tracks. The developers have launched a trial of the program in the Nashville area and if all goes well, expect it to grow rather fast.