Shop door surveillance : this is only the start

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



  1. Tim Musson
    5th November 2013

    Interesting wording from Simon Sugar “brands deserve to know …”. It sounds as if he is trying to establish some sort of moral highground for this decidedly dubious activity.

  2. Yokel
    5th November 2013

    Sadly, I think you are wrong about people never accepting a police database of which shops we enter. Where is the uproar about the police keeping records of which roads we travel on? We are already too “cowed” to protest, for fear of retribution from “the authorities”. There will be a lot of hand-wringing, but little effective action.

  3. Datagieren »
    5th November 2013

    […] na ons online gedrag – ook ons ‘offline’ gedrag te analyseren en te sturen. Zoals Big Brother Watch het uitdrukte: “the race is on to catch up tracking our offline […]

  4. SurveillanceWorld
    5th November 2013

    We shall all have to start covering our faces then. What a frightful world we are allowing to be created. :-(

  5. Sam Duncan
    5th November 2013

    “A bit of both I expect.”

    Indeed. The first problem I’m fairly relaxed about. As long as it’s only used for advertising there and then, then I say fair enough. It’s only one step away from posting someone at the door to hand out different flyers to men or women. I think it’s important not to panic in these circumstances and recognise that a lot of this technology does have fairly benign uses.

    But the real danger, as you say, is that it won’t stop there. Even if Tesco themselves don’t extend the scope of their own scanners, the technology exists and will be used for more sinister purposes by someone.

    I’m increasingly of the opinion that we need a written constitution limiting the powers of the government, as they do in the US. The use of surveillance technology could at least be proscribed for the state. Of course, this would be a great deal more compelling if the American federal government actually behaved as if it was limited…

  6. Anonymous
    6th November 2013

    Does the administrator even allow anonymous comments? if not? why not?

    A few of my comments have been rejected on a few older articles, if it’s because I use the Anonymous handle, then we need a new moderator!

  7. Adatvédelmi aggályokat vetnek fel a brit Tesco arcleolvasói |
    6th November 2013

    […] A Tesco tervének hétfői bejelentése felkeltette az adatvédelmi szakemberek érdeklődését is. Az áruházlánc szóvivője kedden hangsúlyozta, a technológia csak a vevők nemét és korát azonosítja, az egyes személyeket nem ismeri fel. A Big Brother Watch nevű brit adatvédelmi szervezet azonban honlapján arra hívta fel a figyelmet, hogy a szkennerek bármikor továbbfejleszthetők, ezért fontos lenne még idejében közbelépni, különben egyenes lehet az út a tömeges megfigyeléshez. A The Grocer című kiskereskedelmi magazin hétfői száma tudósított a Tesco tervéről az “okoskamerák” bevezetésére. A készülékek a kasszánál sorban állók nemét és korát fogják felismerni, hogy az épp jelenlévőknek szóló reklámokat játszhassák le az áruházlánc 450 benzinkútjánál. Az Amscreen által előállított technika azt is rögzíti, melyik napszakban kell egy adott terméket hirdetni, a kávé iránt például reggelenként nagyobb a kereslet. Az Amscreen vezetője, Simon Sugar a magazinnak elmondta, hogy a lehető legtöbb szupermarketben tervezik bevezeti az okoskamerákat, “ez pedig megváltoztatja a brit kiskereskedelmet”. A Tesco hangsúlyozta, a technika korántsem új, és más kereskedők már alkalmazzák. Nem lesz semmiféle arcfelismerés, és az egyes személyeket semmilyen formában nem lehet azonosítani – magyarázta a kereskedőcég egyik szóvivője kedden. Peter Cattel, a Tesco benzinkút-üzletágának vezetője elmondta, a leolvasók nem készítenek fényképet és nem tárolnak személyes adatokat sem. Hozzátette, vevőik számára különösen hasznos lehet, ha hely és idő szerint “testre szabhatják” a nekik közvetített hirdetéseket. A Big Brother Watch igazgatója, Nick Pickles szerint a terv két alapvető problémát vet fel. “Az első kérdés, hogy valóban növelni kívánjuk-e a megfigyelés mértékét, melynek ma is ki vagyunk téve, hogy ezzel néhány cég még több reklámot tudjon eladni. A második: a technika nem marad változatlan, és nem mindig fogják így használni” – hangoztatta a szakember. Arra is figyelmeztetett, hogy – szerinte – hosszabb távon személyek azonosításáról van szó. Egy napon a kereskedők így pontosan tudnák követni, ki milyen boltba jár. A már létező térfigyelő kamerák tömegét lehetne erre a célra egyszerűen átalakítani.(MTI) (// […]

  8. Tesco Big Brother – A Tesco arcleolvasói adatvédelmi aggályokat vetnek fel – Budaörsi Infó
    6th November 2013

    […] Arra is figyelmeztetett, hogy – szerinte – hosszabb távon személyek azonosításáról van szó. Egy napon a kereskedők így pontosan tudnák követni, ki milyen boltba jár. A már létező térfigyelő kamerák tömegét lehetne erre a célra egyszerűen átalakítani. (// […]

  9. Anon
    27th November 2013

    I don’t use loyalty cards and do as much as I can to avoid shops where I feel surveillance is intrusive (becoming a larger list I might add). What is interesting that when one asks a member of staff in such shops about the level of surveillance being carried out and how it might be used they are surprised that it is happening at all. If they are aware of it they say ridiculous things like, oh we don’t do anything with it. Well if that is the case then you don’t need to record it at all.

  10. DAVE
    4th December 2013

    Tesco might be on sticky ground as far as implied consent applies to recording and storing, using or selling on images of people with or without their knowledge. Just assuming it is ok to do so is not really upholding the rights of the individual but violating them. A few punitively expensive test cases against them might stop the rot!


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