Hands up who remembers Steven Spielberg’s movie “Minority Report”, a thriller set in 2054, with Tom Cruise hunted by both the police and a disquieting future technology.

In that movie, which seems prehistoric but it goes back only to 2002, we were introduced to a nothing-short-of-Orwellian “personal advertising” scenario (refresh your memory with this scene from Youtube).

Software reading facial expressions: the future is already here

Well, as many as 37 years are left to 2054, but we are by no means equally distant from those science-fiction scenarios.

Actually recent news report that the Italian Guarantor of privacy has sent an information request to Quividi, the French company installing and managing the advertising totems in Milan’s Central railway station (as well as in many other places).

The reason? The founder of Hermes Centre for transparency and digital human rights, Giovanni Pellerano, attracted by a malfunctioning display, found that these tools are not just aimed to project advertising and train schedules, but they are also able to recognize the passers-by’s facial expressions so to profile gender, age (estimated), distinctive features (beard, moustache, glasses), mood (estimated), users’ number and level of attention – invaluable information to measure the success of a display campaign in terms of both marketing and neuromarketing.

Outdoor advertising is dead. Long live outdoor advertising

Science fiction? Far from it! In Zurich train station, even the administration of the canton of Grisons has launched an interactive tourist promotion campaign, thanks to a “smart column” able to engage in a conversation with passersby.

Such an original idea drew the attention not only of tourists, but also of both media and social networks.

It’s yet another proof that those who announced the death of traditional advertising tools – in this case of billboards – were grossly wrong, because they didn’t take into account these means evolving thanks to technology (just keep repeating it like a mantra: you can’t do marketing and communication only by the web!).

But even more, it’s the umpteenth proof that tourism marketing, if well done (and if the Guarantor won’t throw a spanner in your works as well), brings leads – you bet!

Much ado about nothing

So why did a polemic burst in recent days against the totem of Milan’s Central Station?

For a point of principle, I would say. Under the law, actually, the acquisition of biometric data (facial expressions, whether related to identifiable individuals, belong to this category) is equal to the processing of personal information and it’s thus necessary that users are informed and give explicit consent – which in Milan’s Central Station never happened in the last seven years (Quividi’s interactive totems have been on since 2011).

However, if we move from theoretical principles to practice, those totems in Milan’s station seem simply used as “people counters”, as shown in the preliminary verification already carried out by the Authority in 2011. The software, in other words, wouldn’t be in any way able to identify the individuals captured by the camera, and the shooting itself would be immediately removed from memory due to real-time data processing.

The discovery of a fault not promptly handled by Quividi prompted the Guarantor to request an additional check, but it is most likely that no wrongdoing will pop up. Italian media, however, really like crying wolf as soon as they get the chance…

Much ado about nothing then? It seems so. After all, what else can we expect in a land that – with a procedure whose slowness is one-of-a-kind – claim to “defend” web users from cookies, as if they were a virus?

What then could ever do who doesn’t accept them? Return directly to the 80’s? I wish it were that simple!



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