Once the realm of the paranoid, fantasies about being spied upon by the mannequins in store windows has recently turned into a privacy-encroaching reality. The Italian mannequin maker Almax SpA makes a product called EyeSee, which is a mannequin with a camera embedded in one of its eyes. It watches the customers going through the store’s doors, feeds the data to facial-recognition software and analyses their characteristics to better target their service. For example, one store found that many shoppers that came in after 4 pm were Asian, so it assigned Chinese speaking staff at the entrance after that time.
Currently in use in three European countries as well as the US, it is deployed in stores like the Benetton Group, among others. And while the practice of using cameras to analyze customers’ appearances is not new, it was traditionally done from overhead cameras; Almax argues that the eye-level angles provide better data. Clearly the intentions are not nefarious and are aimed at providing a more tailored shopping experience, but the surreptitiousness of it has a few privacy critics alarmed. The question then becomes: should we still have a reasonable expectation of privacy while out shopping?