I am attending the National Retail Federation’s annual technology expo this week where the world’s best retail technology companies show off their latest products. After the first day on the Expo floor, some of the technologies getting buzz revolve around security and facial recognition.

To find out what’s happening inside the dressing room without using a video camera, the state of the art seems to be to use RFID chips and thermal sensors to detect how many of what items are in the room and whether a person is still in there (hopefully only one person, too.)

But the more interesting technology to me was the facial recognition software that comes with video cameras from some companies. This software can recognize faces in real time to help identify the shoplifters or other bad guys, and is probably the same software that the government is already using to figure out who the bad guys are that we really need to watch. This software can theoretically identify customers by name so that you can greet them properly, or observe their shopping patterns. A little creepy? The software is also able to deduce the demographics of the people passing by the camera, which leads to other possible analysis.

For an ad agency, this technology also allows a company to change an ad based on the demographics of the people passing by the ad. So, for example, a camera sees a group of 18-25 year old women about to pass in front of a display screen. The ad software can throw up an ad appropriate for that group, but then change it to an ad for camo gear when the software detects a group of 40-50 year old men with scruffy beards. All this happens in real time.

Whether or notconsumers embrace this technology and see the benefit of customized offers and VIP treatment or look on it as an invasion of privacy, only time will tell.

Check back tomorrow on day 2 of the show.

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