How Far is Too Far?
How far is too far? This is
one of those questions where everyone seems to have an
answer, but that answer is always changing. So is there
really an answer, it’s hard to tell. I ask this question
because of the recent backlash (for lack of a better word)
regarding new mannequins that have cameras embedded in one
eye. I read an article about these new mannequins a few days
before Thanksgiving, and when I woke up Black Friday morning
every newscast seemed to be talking about them. Most of the
reports were covering the mannequins in a negative light,
and a few even said they were a violation of our rights. So,
how far is too far? Let’s find out.
being both cautious and curious creatures, tend to have
mixed reactions when new technology like this comes out.
Nine times out of ten our first reaction is to stay away
from new things, especially ones that track or watch us. But
then a funny thing happens, after the “cautious” state we
immediately become curious. How does it work? How does it
affect me? Do I have a choice? That last one is the kicker,
do I have a choice? When we have the choice to opt-in or out
of something that watches us, we suddenly become okay with
it and most of the time will say yes to being watched.
A great example of this is when it was discovered the Apple
and Google tracked us via their mobile operating systems.
Many people were outraged, they felt violated; how dare
these massive companies keep track of us and what we do.
What was the solution to all of this? Apple and Google
didn’t stop tracking us, they simply gave us a choice. Now
when an application has a tracking feature a pop-up appears
that asks if it can track our location, and wouldn’t you
know it that most of us click “Allow.” It’s a funny thing
being given a choice, but does that still make it okay?
Let’s take some time to go over what exactly these
mannequins do. In simple terms, they help retailers better
understand their demographics. They do this by analyzing the
faces of those who pass by. Based on bone structure, skin
tone, etc., they can determine a customer’s age, sex, and
ethnicity among others. Contrary to popular belief, however,
these mannequins don’t record video. The software only
collects the demographic data and discards the images. The
manufacturer of these mannequins is talking about adding the
ability for them to record audio, but it will not be tied to
any specific person.
So what makes us okay with being recorded by security
cameras, but not okay with a mannequin just collecting data?
Well, we are used to the security cameras, and we are given
a choice. Stores with a surveillance system have signs that
state there are cameras recording video, giving us the
choice to shop there or not. Would shoppers be okay with the
mannequins if they were given a choice? Only time will tell,
but some of the American retailers that already employ them
are giving customers a choice by posting signs stating the
mannequins are in the store.
How far is too far? We may never know. The line people are
willing to cross, and the level of privacy people want is
ever changing. Do these mannequins go too far? Maybe they
do, maybe they don’t but one thing is clear – if you use
them you need to make your customers aware that you are, you
need to give them a choice.