The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has helped consumers better understand how their personal data is collected and used by businesses. It has also given them greater control over that information, providing them with the right to obtain a copy, or to even request it is permanently deleted.

Most of the publicity surrounding GDPR has been to do with activity tracking by online services and websites. Which means that many people don’t realise similar tracking technologies exist offline too.

Facial Recognition Technology (FRT) – coming to a shopping centre near you

Most of us have encountered facial recognition technology at some point, from cameras that compare passport photos at the airport, to the FaceID security system for the latest iPhones and iPads. But similar technologies are probably more common than you think.

Take the French firm Quividi for instance. They have built a smart advertising system for use in shopping centres that personalises content according to the people nearby. It does this using a camera built into the advertising billboard and some very clever software to analyse key characteristics of the target person.

The Quividi system can detect a person’s gender, their age, and most importantly their mood. It then selects and displays the most appropriate advertisement for that type of person and records their reaction once it has captured their attention. These reaction videos can then be analysed by marketers to gauge interest, and to refine future advertising campaigns.

Facial recognition on a wider scale

Importantly, the Quividi system simply recognises a person’s face is nearby. It cannot (yet) tell exactly who the person is because it does not compare against a database of known individuals. This is facial detection technology, rather than a facial recognition system.

Facial recognition technology (FRT) can automatically detect who a person is. Law enforcement and immigration services use FRT to automatically identify wanted criminals for instance. But many businesses, particularly those outside the European Union, are looking at ways to use FRT for marketing and advertising purposes.

At the forefront of commercial FRT applications are Google and Facebook. Both platforms analyse pictures uploaded by their users and auto-tag the people in them for instance. Every photo shared with these services is used to tune and improve their facial recognition technologies, with a view to potentially selling that personal information for use by other companies.

Blending on- and off-line systems

For years, online advertising giants like Google have struggled to build a complete picture of individual people. They can track (almost) all of your activity online, but they have no idea what you do when visiting a high street store.

Facial recognition technology helps to solve that problem; in-store cameras can recognise you, along with details of what you look at, and what you eventually buy. This creates a complete profile which will be used to deliver highly targeted marketing at each person.

For many people, this level of scrutiny feels invasive – especially if you can’t easily opt-out of in-store monitoring. The answer is to try and break the link between on- and off-line worlds by protecting your online activities from invasive trackers.

This is where Panda can help. Our Panda Dome VPN Premium service allows you to browse the internet securely and anonymously, dramatically reducing the amount of information marketers and trackers can collect about you. Which means that although they can detect your face using FRT, they cannot easily link it to your online profile.

To learn more about our VPN browsing technology, and to better protect yourself against hackers and intrusive marketers, download a free trial of Panda Dome Premium today.