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NEC Japanese billboards use facial recognition tech: Hello Minority Report Future

The Guardian reports that NEC has created the first digital billboards tailored to watch passing shoppers, and it's being tried out in malls. The signage uses facial recognition software, it can identify your gender (with 85-90% accuracy), your ethnicity and even your approximate age. Dude, if they get that age thing wrong when I pass on a bad hairday I'm gonna be miffed.

The ad panels have so far caused little concern in Japan, where there is less sensitivity to big business keeping tabs on citizens; but NEC now plans to introduce them abroad, and western consumers may be more resistant.

"We don't expect the billboard to look back at us, but that is exactly what is happening now," says Marc Rotenberg, the director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (Epic), a Washington DC-based research centre that aims to protect privacy. "Companies are increasingly impatient to get to us, and once these practices are commonplace it will be hard to reverse them."

But NEC insists there is little to fear: "As our system does not store any images – it stores only the analysed results [viewers' age and sex] based on those images – we feel there is no privacy issue."

Bladerunner and Minority Report futures are just around the corner people, they're being tested in Japan right now.

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