A few days ago, I came across a photo that showed what appeared to be a digital advertisement screen in a restaurant in Oslo.
However, the software running the advertisement screen had crashed and was revealing a log of what the software was doing. It turns out, the advertisement screen was using a camera to record details of everyone who passed by.
After sleeping on it, this reminded me of the increasing number of digital advertisement screens that I’ve seen popping up around Dublin City.
You’ve probably seen them too, they are pretty eye-catching. Here’s what they look like, this one points out on to the street from Capitol Bar.
The company behind this screen is called Orbscreen and its website can be found here. The business has about 70 screens spread across Dublin, Cork and Galway.
From speaking with Orbscreen, I’ve discovered that approximately 10 of these screens are equipped with cameras, but they intend to increase this number soon.
If you didn’t notice, there’s a small camera that sits at the top of some of these screens. These cameras are used to collate information on everyone who walks by - such as gender, facial hair and mood.
However, you’ll find no signs up to explain this and there's no way to opt-out.
According to Orbscreen’s website, this is the list of the attributes they collect on everyone passing by.
The Data Protection Commission released a statement this week clarifying that the screens do "not involve the recording, analysis, matching, profiling or storage of personally identifiable data".
However, there’s no transparency, and there’s no way to opt–out.
In my opinion, this is a gross invasion of our privacy, and it’s been capitalised on for profit. This is unacceptable.
For instance, with platforms like Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, you have to actively accept their Terms of Service and Privacy Policies before using their product - and even then, we’re vigilant regarding what we allow these platforms to do.
Ultimately, you can simply delete your Facebook, Instagram or Twitter account if you wish to opt–out.
With platforms like Orbscreen, things are very different. We have no choice here.
This is also a private company that’s collecting information on us without our awareness, not some kind of public service that can at least pretend it exists for the public good.
I decided to speak to a number of the businesses that have an Orbscreen in their window, and all of them were surprised to discover that this was how it worked.
Last but not least, Orb prides itself on the fact that 'adblockers don’t apply', which is a very clear way of saying that there is no option for people to opt-out.
gross infringement on our privacy, and it ought to be stopped.
I am a technologist, but I am also a humanist. I believe in the power and benefit of technology, so let me be intensely clear when I say this:
This is not a criticism of technology. The same technology being applied here (most likely, computer vision) is already being used to detect possible melanomas.
On the same point, road fatalities are a problem, but they will decrease with self–driving cars. Self–driving cars will rely heavily on computer vision. In fact, it will most likely transpire that most human problems are computer vision problems.
So, this is not a conversation about technology, but personal sovereignty.
This is an opportunity to have a discussion about how we protect and preserve our freedom when on public property.
We should all be able to move freely and if we don’t talk about that, it will continue to happen with increasing levels of resolution and accuracy.
If our Government wanted to do this, I am sure there would be a strong movement against it.
This is an important conversation and will become increasingly important as we evolve into an even more technology-driven society. Technologies are not getting simpler, they are getting more powerful, so the question is this:
“Do we stand up to those who use technology in a way that erodes our sovereignty, or do we do nothing and allow things to continue along this trend?”
After receiving this article from Youssef, we reached out to Managing Director of Orb Screen, Geoff Fitzpatrick, to get his response to the claims.
Geoff told Lovin Dublin that he had introduced the screens to make his company's digital offering as "sophisticated as possible" and was simply integrating software developed by French company Quividi.
He added that all information collected by the screens was "completely anonymous", with "not a nanosecond of video or streaming footage collected".
"It's basically an evolution of someone standing in the street with a clipboard and the huge starting point for us is that no personal data is collected. We are not selling individuals to companies. I agree with Youssef in that I would be upset if that was happening, but nobody is being profiled or tracked."
According to Quividi, the company's software is legal and in line with European legislation regarding data privacy due to the fact that nobody can be identified by the date collected.
You can find out more about the exact information being recorded here.
Invasion of privacy or evolution of advertising?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments....