Tesco’s new scanner sounds harmless enough – a camera that just works out whether you’re male or female, and roughly how old you are.
The advertisements shown on the screen change, and I’m sure quickly you’ll see cases of men with long hair being mistaken for women, to much hilarity from their friends.
There are two fundamental problems here; not least the fact that the only way you can ensure your face is not scanned is to not go into the shop.
Firstly, should we really be increasing the amount of surveillance we’re under so some companies can sell more advertising?
Secondly, the technology isn’t going to stay the same and be used in the same way.
The potential for abuse is chilling.
As businesses like Google collect vast amounts of data about us online and can target us with very specific adverts, the race is on to catch up tracking our offline lives.
Loyalty cards were the start of the process, but as the race for data intensifies, the surveillance is becoming more intensive.
Indeed, Simon Sugar, the Chief Executive of the company behind the scanners is open about their ambition, saying “brands deserve to know not just an estimation of how many eyeballs are viewing their adverts, but who they are too.”
So, we’re not stopping at age and gender – the long game is about identifying you, and facial recognition technology is getting close to enabling them to do it.
Already some companies are using facial recognition software, with Facebook first using it in 2011 until the authorities stepped in.
Our social networking profile images make a ready database of images to identify exactly who we are, and just as the data from the Tesco screens flows back in real time, so could the analysis.
Given the number of CCTV cameras across Britain that could be adapted to use this technology, the potential to track people in real-time is huge.
Equally, the commercial temptation to expand the data being collected is clear – knowing which other shops someone goes in for example.
Is this harmless marketing or the evolution of the telescreen for the club card generation?
A bit of both I expect.
But there is a very real danger that by shrugging our shoulders when we’re scanned by these machines, the likelihood of them being used for much more intrusive data gathering increases.
More importantly, the fact shops feel they can scan you without your permission is a shocking indictment of how privacy is under attack in an unprecedented way.
Those who argue you have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide may well think twice about the shops they visit, whether they seek sensitive medical and legal advice or what streets they walk down.
People accept a degree of surveillance for law enforcement purposes, but these systems are solely motivated to watch us to collect marketing data.
People would never accept the police keeping a real-time log of which shops we go in, but this technology could do just that.
It is only a few steps short of a surveillance state by the shop door.
This article first appeared on Mirror.co.uk