Privacy: who has the claim to it?

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Almax The EyeSee mannequin
Almax spA’s The EyeSee mannequin, which has a camera hidden behind its eye to track shoppers’ behaviour as they browse fashion boutiques to allow retailers to collect information on their customers. Image credit:

The world is becoming more and more paranoid with itself. The more  homosapiens advance in the field of technology and science the more we want to be “snoops.” At first it seemed that we were obsessed with only the rich and famous. However, we have evolved even further and more disturbing than before.

Privacy has become a double edged sword. How far would we go to maintain our privacy “private.” The world became outraged when Facebook introduced its facial recognition software in 2011. The company claimed that this technology would help users tag photos of friends and family members.  Many privacy groups complained that the company was collecting new personal data without asking users for permission.

On the hand, using such technology for the safety and security of society is commended. Since the 9/11 bombings the world has not recovered from the aspect of breach of security, frankly I don’t think the world wants to go back to ignorant days. The world “security” has been ingrained into the minds of people, thanks to the media.  Therefore a the FBI rolling out its $1 billion bio-metric Next Generation Identification (NGI) system all across the U.S.. it is a database of mug shots, iris scans, DNA samples, voice recording, palm prints and other bio metrics collected from more than 100 million Americans and intended to help identify and catch criminals.

“People want to feel safe,” Mark Miller a security consultant based in Dubai told Arabian Gazette. “Safe in their neighborhood, in their homes with their families. Safety is important to us. therefore if a law and enforcement body implements a software which encroaches on peoples privacy, I think it’s a small price to pay for security.”

So basically, it seems to be okay for a law and enforcement agency to implement such “spy” software to better their chances of catching the culprit  Apparently the fashion industry seems to adopting a similar tune. The fashion industry feels that it too is justified in using “spy” software to  better its chances of survival.

Mannequins in fashion boutiques are now being fitted with secret cameras to ‘spy’ on shoppers’ buying habits. High Street fashion chains have deployed the dummies equipped with technology adapted from security systems used to identify criminals at airports.

‘Creepy’: The EyeSee mannequin, which has a camera hidden behind its eye to track shoppers’ behaviour as they browse fashion boutiques to allow retailers to collect information on their customers. This information is fed into a computer and is ‘aggregated’ to offer retailers using the system statistical and contextual information they can use to develop their marketing strategies.

The device is marketed by Italian mannequin maker Almax and has already spurred shops into adjusting window displays, floor layouts and promotions, Bloomberg reported.

Its makers boast: ‘From now on you can know how many people enter the store, record what time there is a greater influx of customers (and which type) and see if some areas risk to be overcrowded.

Almax claims information from the devices led one outlet to adjust window displays after they found that men shopping in the first two days of a sale spent more than women, while another introduced a children’s line after the dummy showed youngsters made up more than half its afternoon traffic.

A third retailer placed Chinese-speaking staff by a particular entrance after it found a third of visitors using that door after 4 pm were Asian.

Almax insists that its system does not invade the privacy of shoppers since the camera inside the mannequin is ‘blind’, meaning that it does not record the images of passers-by, instead merely collecting data about them.

In an emailed statement, Mr Catanese told MailOnline : ‘Let’s say I pass in front of the mannequin. Nobody will know that “Max Catanese” passed in front of it.

‘The retailer will have the information that a male adult Caucasian passed in front of the mannequin at 6:25 pm and spent 3 minutes in front of it. No sensible/private data, nor image is collected. Different is the case if a place (shop, department store, etc.) is already covered by security cameras (by the way, basically almost every retailer in the world today).

‘In those cases we could even provide the regular camera as the data and customers images are already collected in the store which are authorised to do so.

Mr. Catanese is simply trying to camouflage a wolf in sheep clothing. Privacy groups are concerned about the roll our of the technology. Emma Carr, deputy director of civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: ‘Keeping cameras hidden in a mannequin is nothing short of creepy. The use of covert surveillance technology by shops, in order to provide a personalised service, seems totally disproportionate. The fact that the cameras are hidden suggests that shops are fully aware that many customers would object to this kind of monitoring. It is not only essential that customers are fully informed that they are being watched, but that they also have real choice of service and on what terms it is offered. Without this transparency, shops cannot be completely sure that their customers even want this level of personalised service. This is another example of how the public are increasingly being monitored by retailers without ever being asked for their permission. Profit trumps privacy yet again.

Where do we draw the line? Does law and enforcement agencies have the right to poke into our private lives on the pretense of security. If we allow one of them should we give the same courtesy to others as well.  It seems that we as the citizens of the world believe that personal information collected by the law enforcement agencies are justified. Merely on the fact that we are not willing to question authority and even if we do, we would be told its for our own safety. However when it comes to fashion retailers why do we see them as scavengers after our money, thus our privacy becomes more valuable. Are we drawing the line on the correct space or are we simply influenced through our personal information.


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