Privacy advocates might have a field day with Walgreens’ new smart cooler concept.
When you go to the cooler section to purchase milk, ice cream, or other cold products, you won’t immediately see clear glass showcasing what’s inside at some stores. Instead, Walgreens is testing technology to show you targeted in-store ads on the cases.
Walgreens recently introduced digital cooler doors to six stores across the country. Instead of using perfectly adequate transparent glass, the doors now look like touchscreens (though they don’t react to touch), with digital renderings of the goods that are inside.
The Wall Street Journal reports that more than a dozen brands have signed on to test the platform, which is powered by start-up company Cooler Screens. Nestle, MillerCoors, and Conagra Brands are among those that will be featured.
Here’s where the privacy concerns creep in. The system uses a form of facial recognition technology. Sensors and cameras will scan faces and estimate age and gender to deliver targeted messages. The company says it will post a privacy statement near the cooler and make staff available to explain the tech.
Cooler Screens denies it uses facial recognition. They say the technology will not identify individuals, just traits that indicate age and gender. The company also told The Atlantic that only anonymous metadata is captured and stored.
Will customers accept it? Last year, two malls in Canada used cameras to track customers with similar technology without obtaining consent or providing a way to opt out. The tech was shut down after customer complaints which triggered an investigation by Canadian Privacy Commissioners.