Tesco to scan queuing shoppers' features for advertisers
SUPERMARKET giant Tesco is installing hundreds of hi-tech screens that scan the faces of shoppers as they queue at the till to detect their age and sex for advertisers.
The store giant has signed a ground-breaking deal with Lord Alan Sugar's Amscreen in a move which last night sparked fresh concerns from privacy campaigners about the growing use of "invasive" techology in the nation's shops.
The "OptimEyes" system will be rolled out into 450 Tesco petrol forecourts, which serve millions of customers a week.
It works by using inbuilt cameras in a TV-style screen above the till that identify whether a customer is male or female, estimate their age and judge how long they look at the ad.
The "real time" data is fed back to advertisers to give them a better idea of the effectiveness of their campaigns and enable them to tailor ads to certain times of the day.
The technology echoes hit 2002 sci-fi film Minority Report, where actor Tom Cruise's character is bombarded by personalised ads as he walks down a street once sensors detect him by scanning his eyes.
Simon Sugar, Lord Sugar's son and Amscreen chief executive, told industry magazine The Grocer: "Yes it's like something out of Minority Report, but this could change the face of British retail and our plans are to expand the screens into as many supermarkets as possible."
He added: "We're extremely excited to call Tesco a screen network partner."
He insisted the OptimEyes technology, developed in conjunction with a face detection software specialist, does not store images or recognise people, and instead simply "works out gender and sorts customers into one of three age brackets".
But privacy campaigners said the explosion in personal data collection was threatening to spiral out of control.
Nick Pickles of Big Brother Watch said camera technology was already available that matches scans of people's faces when they walk into a shop with their pictures on Facebook to tailor special offers to their "likes" on the social media website.
He told The Daily Telegraph: "People would never accept a degree of surveillance for law enforcement purposes, but these systems are solely designed to watch us for collecting marketing data.
"People would never accept the police keeping a real-time log of which shops we go in, but this technology can do just that. It is a surveillance state by the shop door."
The technology is already used in forecourts across the UK but Amscreen claim the Tesco deal is the biggest of its kind since it was unveiled earlier this summer.
The screens in Tesco forecourts will show ads that run for up to 10 seconds a time on a 100 second loop.
Peter Cattell, category director for Tesco petrol stations, said the technology would "enhance" the customer shopping experience.
He said: "The ability to tailor content based on time and location means this can be extremely useful and timely for interacting with our customers."
Tesco was one of the first to track shopping habits with Clubcard, the loyaly card scheme launched in 1995.