Facial Monitoring: The all-telling eye

Pervasive surveillance is now becoming extremely personalized – is there an infringement of our private space – are we even aware of all the body language we imply in a brief glance at  a piece of chocolate cake, a shiny new bauble in a window display or an attractive woman’s breasts in a magazine or in person! from The Economist

Webcams can now spot which ads catch your gaze, read your mood and check your vital signs:

IMAGINE browsing a website when a saucy ad for lingerie catches your eye. You don’t click on it, merely smile and go to another page. Yet it follows you, putting up more racy pictures, perhaps even the offer of a discount. Finally, irked by its persistence, you frown. “Sorry for taking up your time,” says the ad, and promptly desists from further pestering. Creepy. But making online ads that not only know you are looking at them but also respond to your emotions will soon be possible, thanks to the power of image-processing software and the ubiquity of tiny cameras in computers and mobile devices.

Uses for this technology would not, of course, be confined to advertising. There is ample scope to deploy it in areas like security, computer gaming, education and health care. But admen are among the first to embrace the idea in earnest. That is because it helps answer, at least online, clients’ perennial carp: that they know half the money they spend on advertising is wasted, but they don’t know which half.

Advertising firms already film how people react to ads, usually in an artificial setting. The participants’ faces are studied for positive or negative feelings. A lot of research, some of it controversial, has been done into ways of categorising the emotions behind facial expressions. In the 1970s Paul Ekman, an American psychologist, developed a comprehensive coding system which is still widely used.

Some consumer-research companies also employ goggle-mounted cameras to track eye movements so they can be sure what their subjects are looking at. This can help determine which ads attract the most attention and where they might be placed for the best effect on a web page.

This work is now moving online. Higher-quality cameras and smarter computer-vision software mean that volunteers can work from home and no longer need to wear clunky headgear. Instead, their eyes can be tracked using a single webcam.

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Getting in tune with new retailing

We all need to understand the speed with which digital communication is altering the way we use the city and its functions and be concerned that the shrinking world where we experience each other is becoming more and more mediated by thin media and while I agree that outdated laws and  rules with regards to cameras etc are archaic and out of touch, I cannot but help think this poor fellows life is impoverished by his choices to say at home! By: Lee Radmall on BizCOMMINITY.com

“My wife recently got ejected from a retail store and even threatened with legal action. No, my wife is not a shoplifter or a retail espionage agent, she is a just a modern woman shopping for her family in the digital age. Now I understand that the security staff and store management are executing an executive mandate but what is more worrying is that the retail chains themselves are not seeing the overriding change in how consumers are shopping.

Traditionally it has been a rule that you cannot take pictures within retail environments. Goodness knows why, anything at retail is already part of public domain and if a competitor wanted to copy something, it already exists. Obviously you have the ‘me too’ competitors but good companies are more concerned with moving onward than protecting generic parts of their customer offering that are easy to duplicate and offer no real differentiation.

I understand that the security staff and store management were executing an executive mandate but what is worrying is that the retail chains themselves are not seeing the overriding change in how consumers are shopping.

I am not sure how things work in your household but in mine, my wife is the designated shopping specialist. She buys clothes for her, my baby boy and me. For me, shopping for clothes is a distraction from more important pursuits such as watching Discovery in HD or putting in several hours into the hottest PlayStation game. My simple solution to shopping for clothes while not actually being there is for the designated shopper to take pics on his or her Blackberry and send these through BBM. The digital conversation usually goes something like this:

Wife: Hey I found this t-shirt. What do you think?
Me: Err…looks cool not so sure about the floral print.
Wife: How about this one? Has that nice collar that you like.
Me: Do they have a belt that works with that?
Wife: Check out these options
Me: Option 2 looks nice but buy all three. You can never have enough belts.

Viral marketing at its best

This is not just a sample of one; this is how consumers are shopping now. If it is not a wife for her husband, it is a bunch of girlfriends sharing and swopping shopping advice. One of the most amazing things about this trend is that two friends do not even have to be in the same country to give each other real time fashion advice.

Now if I were a forward thinking retailer, I would be finding the best way to encourage my consumers to take good pics within my store or even better, find a way to encourage consumers to send their product pics to as many friends as possible. This is viral marketing at its best and it is free.

Therefore, my advice to retailers is embrace the change and the next time one of your customers walks around your store snapping fashion pics, put away the handcuffs and train your staff to offer to model the garments while your consumers take their snapshots.

Every top company in the world has a digital presence and is using this as a powerful interface to talk to their consumers and encourage open debate through blogs and Twitter – why not include actual customers on the floor?”

This is not all we are doing with our phones while shopping – here are some more things we like doing:

Hong Kong’s Retail Diversity


“Julia Levitt just posted Hong Kong’s Retail Tetris at Metropolis Magazine POV. Levitt looks at the retail makeup, density that comes in a densely packed mega-city such as Hong Kong. The variety of spaces and retails outlets in Hong Kong is often an amazing sight.

I recently traveled to Hong Kong last weekend and found that shopping centres are as lively and exciting as the streetscape and vice-versa depending on the time of day. Restaurants are often on the 5th, 6th and often 11th floor of shopping centres. Nothing beats the streetscape at night time in areas such as Tsim Sha Tsui and Mongkok on the Kowloon side that are a sea of neon and LED light until the early morning. Same can be said of Central, Wan Chai on Hong Kong Island. The culture in Hong Kong is also around eating and often Breakfast, Morning Tea, Lunch, Aftenoon Tea, Dinner, Midnight Tea, so you can always find people wondering the streets in some areas of Hong Kong. Also the heavy used public transport creates the opportunity to stay out to the late at night or early hours as the trains run until 1am and also buses that run all night”

restaurant with a view

I see Hong Kong as a model of smart growth management and land use planning. It’s a city were policy dictates that development must concentrate on only 25% of the land area, with the remaining 75% preserved as open space. This policy ensures that the region’s lush green spaces remain intact. It also maintains scarcity and high land values in developable areas. This is crucial to the local government because its primary source of income is land leasing.

Looking at development in Hong Kong through Western eyes, I noticed another impact of the city’s tightly concentrated density: the compact clustering of residential and working populations supports a diverse, competitive, and often ingenious retail community. Continue reading