NEC is now trying ads that target specific shopper characteristics. The ad signage uses facial recognition software and can identify the shopper's gender (with 85-90% accuracy), ethnicity and approximate age.
"We don't expect the billboard to look back at us, but that is exactly what is happening now," says Marc Rotenberg, the director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (Epic), a Washington DC-based research centre that aims to protect privacy. "Companies are increasingly impatient to get to us, and once these practices are commonplace it will be hard to reverse them."
But NEC insists there is little to fear: "As our system does not store any images – it stores only the analysed results [viewers' age and sex] based on those images – we feel there is no privacy issue."
We're getting very close to the Minority report ads illustrated so imaginatively in Steven Spielberg's 2002 film version of the Philip K. Dick novel of the same name.