In May of 2017 an IT engineer (Jeff Newman) wanted to have a pizza. He went to a restaurant of the most popular pizza chain in Norway, at the Oslo central train station. Due to a glitch in the software, the display of an electronic advertising sign outside the restaurant showed what was obviously a log of activities in front of the sign.

The log contained lines of information like this:

“Female – young adult” – “attention time 2015 out of 4218” – “smile” and “glasses No” – “…”

When he approached to look at the sign, it displayed a description of a male, young adult with glasses, and he realized this log entry was about him. He was shocked!

He could not find any readily available information about the fact that the sign included a small, difficult to discover camera, obviously hooked up to a computer with facial recognition software.

The surveillance of potential customers within 5 meters of the restaurant entrance was used to determine what short of ad would likely trigger the person to enter the restaurant and buy a meal. Or get a child to plead with a stressed parent to stop at the restaurant?

Maybe apple pie for young girls; or a chocolate cake for a toddler; salad for an adult woman and beef burger with bacon for a grown man? Who knows?

Jeff posted a picture on Facebook, someone took it to Reddit and then it was picked up by a newspaper. It caused an outcry, because people felt this was hidden surveillance. The restaurant chain said that pictures or information was not stored or sent anywhere, but was only used to decide what kind of ads the sign would expose the person to. The sign was subsequently taken down.

Not a disaster maybe, but just another cog wheel in the marketing machine, influencing our feelings and decisions in ways we do not necessarily understand. We are being monitored constantly in our homes, in public spaces, as well as on the mobile platforms. Some of this information is stored, combined and used for a variety of purposes, and often with out our knowledge or understanding of what is going on.

You need to ask yourself: Is the potential gain of getting targeted advertising worth the potential downside of misuse of the information collected? Should you protect yourself better where there are alternatives? Should you engage to get politicians to regulate the ubiquitous information collecting technologies that proliferate every aspect of our lives these days?

For more information: ‘Crashed screen’ on Reddit