Facial recognition - data vs personalisation

Martin Brierley
Creative Partner

Swapping data for a personalised shopping experience


Nearly twenty years ago Tom Cruise took a stroll through a downtown shopping mall and as he did so screens in store windows projected offers specifically for him – those chinos in Gap which we know would have been on his shopping list if only he had time in his busy day. A voice in his earpiece described the personally tailored shopping experience awaiting him in store.Screen Shot 2019-11-05 at 11.03.46Director Steven Spielberg had conceived in Minority Report a vision of the future in which we are now living. Facial recognition had enabled a very personal form of contextual marketing. We are now living in that future.

It seems all the big tech players are diving into Facial Recognition - Microsoft, Amazon, IBM. And that State agencies around the globe are buying into it.

But that future tech is in some ways the holy grail for advertisers and marketeers - part of the single customer view which enables tracking of customers and potential customers through the “purchase funnel”.

The modern marketeer is relying more and more heavily on customer experience to acquire and keep hold of customers. If you don’t know your consumer, can’t monitor and understand their behaviours, and map their intent, how can you deliver the ever more personalised customer experience which we all now expect and take for granted and which drives ever more efficient marketing.



Algorithm driven personalisation is everywhere; from the recommendations on Netflix and Amazon to those targeted ads in our social media feeds. And we are not bothered. We are happy to accept and enjoy the value exchange - the benefits outweigh the negatives as long as we are conscious, and our privacy is not being abused. Right?

When we sign up for Facebook or Instagram aren’t we also implicitly understanding (unlike the US congressmen who asked Zuckerburg how Facebook makes money) that we are entering into a contract that allows us to be advertised to on a granular/ personal level. Technically GDPR protects us ensuring that our very personal data is not held and used without our approval or understanding. And it’s true that unless we click the obvious cookie approval or accept the t’s & c’s we are protected, because advertisers can only target us anonymously - as an “audience segment” and not as a named individual.

So back to Tom in the shopping mall. Facial recognition is now at the centre of a debate about our right to privacy balanced against the evils of the surveillance society which we rightly all dread.

There’s a sense of an impending Orwellian dystopia around the technology when applied to surveillance witness MP David Davies writing in the Guardian:

There is a point at which crime-fighting measures cease to challenge the guilty and become a threat to the innocent. That point has come with unfettered facial recognition.


Screen Shot 2019-11-05 at 11.03.37This raises a number of questions. Most of which are for the politicians of course. We all share those concerns - who wouldn't. But maybe there is another take on this - the part facial recognition can play in the value exchange between brands and their customers.

At Candyspace we have considerable experience of the technology having tested, prototyped and built facial recognition driven marketing solutions. SAP asked us to design an AR 'companion guide' for their CX Live event in Barcelona, click here to take a look at the case study!

As the AI on which facial recognition is based becomes rapidly ever more intelligent, and the power of the cloud and 5G technologies develop, there is little doubt that FR’s accuracy and ability to drive personalised experiences is improving hourly.

We have delivered dynamically edited video triggered by the viewers emotions - read via facial recognition. The piece involved lots of tricky tech with cloud hosted video generated and edited live based on the viewers emotional state. And we’ve also shown - in collaboration with the University of Basel - how FR can be used to scientifically measure the emotions of the driver of a new sports car as she speeds around the bends of an Alpine circuit.

Based on this alone it’s clear that the areas for enhanced interactions are multiple and that the consumer – given the appropriate value exchange can be persuaded to succumb to the apparent evils of the technology. The technology is only a tool and a tool is only as good (or as well intentioned) as he or she who wields it.

As consumers we are constantly entering into contracts with brands to deliver better more personalised experiences and those enhanced experiences define our relationship with those brands. Many of us are signed up to CRM which sends us via email invitations to brand extensions, real world events for example. Why wouldn’t we agree to an even more tailored experience delivered by FR once at that event.

Or how about if we wish to have a different experience of a Museum or event space tailored specifically for us and our known interests. I’m guessing if it were memorable enough, we might trade or barter some of our privacy.

So back to the shopping mall and the use of Facial Recognition in public spaces. Of course, there’s a need for a debate on the elements of control…but imagine a mall sponsored by Specsavers which uses facial and ocular recognition to scan your eyes as you are walking through and diagnoses a significant medical issue.

Facial Recognition technology is a tool. We will need to decide whether its context and use are of sufficient value for us to forsake some of our privacy.

Subscribe now and get our articles straight to your inbox