|The 'creepy' mannequin that spies on you: Shops use dummies
fitted with airport security to profile customers
Mannequins in fashion boutiques are now being fitted with secret cameras to 'spy' on shoppers' buying habits.
Benetton is among the High Street fashion chains to have deployed the
dummies equipped with technology adapted from security systems used to
identify criminals at airports.
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.
However, privacy campaigners have denounced the system as 'creepy' and said that such surveillance is an instance of profit trumping privacy.
The device is marketed by Italian mannequin maker Almax and has already
spurred shops into adjusting window displays, floor layours and promotions,
Although video profiling of customers is not new, Almax claims its offering is better at providing data because it stands at eye level with customers, who are more likely to look directly at the mannequins.
The video surveillance mannequins have been on sale for almost a year, and are already being used in three European countries and in the U.S.
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 4pm were Asian.
Almax chief executive Max Catanese refused to name which retailers were using the new technology, telling Bloomberg that confidentiality agreements meant he could not disclose the names of clients.
But he did reveal that five companies - among them leading fashion brands - are using 'a few dozen' of the mannequins, with orders for at least that many more.
Almax is now hoping to update the technology to allow the mannequins - and by extension the retailers who operate them - to listen in on what customers are saying about the clothes on display.
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 6:25pm 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.
'In any case, just to avoid questions, so far we only offer the version with blind camera.'
Nevertheless, privacy groups are concerned about the roll-out 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.'