The California State Senate approves a bill that would allow for a pilot program to test digital license plates. Will it involve tracking?
by Chris Matyszczyk
California is the home of everything that's new, exciting, and, well, accidentally nefarious.
It's a delight, therefore, to hear that we here in the Golden State might be the first to get electronic license plates.
Yes, the young and the restless of tech will be able to have their new "TE$LA1" plate beamed directly to their car.
What could be more moving? I am beaming at Ars Technica for discovering that a bill has passed the California State Senate, allowing for a pilot program to launch the scheme.
Store mannequins are meant to catch your eye. Soon you may catch theirs.
Benetton Group SpA is among fashion brands deploying mannequins equipped with technology used to identify criminals at airports to watch over shoppers in their stores.
Retailers are introducing the EyeSee, sold by Italian mannequin maker Almax SpA, to glean data on customers much as online merchants are able to do. The 4,000-euro ($5,072) device has spurred shops to adjust window displays, store layouts and promotions to keep consumers walking in the door and spending.
“It’s spooky,” said Luca Solca, head of luxury goods research at Exane BNP Paribas in London. “You wouldn’t expect a mannequin to be observing you.”
The EyeSee looks ordinary enough on the outside, with its slender polystyrene frame, blank face and improbable pose. Inside, it’s no dummy. A camera embedded in one eye feeds data into facial-recognition software like that used by police. It logs the age, gender, and race of passers-by.
Demand for the device shows how retailers are turning to technology to help personalize their offers as growth slows in the $245 billion luxury goods industry. Bain & Co. predicts the luxury market will expand 5 percent in 2012, less than half last year’s rate.
“Any software that can help profile people while keeping their identities anonymous is fantastic,” said Uché Okonkwo, executive director of consultant Luxe Corp. It “could really enhance the shopping experience, the product assortment, and help brands better understand their customers.”
While some stores deploy similar technology to watch shoppers from overhead security cameras, the EyeSee provides better data because it stands at eye level and invites customer attention, Almax contends.
The mannequin, which went on sale last December and is now being used in three European countries and the U.S., has led one outlet to adjust its window displays after revealing that men who shopped in the first two days of a sale spent more than women, according to Almax.
A clothier introduced a children’s line after the dummy showed that kids made up more than half its mid-afternoon traffic, the company says. Another store found that a third of visitors using one of its doors after 4 p.m. were Asian, prompting it to place Chinese-speaking staff by that entrance.
A spokesman for Benetton declined to elaborate on where or why the clothier is using the EyeSee.
Max Catanese, chief executive officer of the 40-year-old mannequin maker, declined to name clients, citing confidentiality agreements. Five companies, including leading fashion brands, are using a total of “a few dozen” of the mannequins with orders for at least that many more, he says.
Burberry Group Plc (BRBY) and Nordstrom Inc. (JWN) are among retailers that say they aren’t on the list. Even so, they are helping blur the line between the physical shopping experience and Web retailing by setting up WiFi, iPads and video screens at their outlets to better engage shoppers.
Nordstrom, a U.S. chain of more than 100 department stores, says facial-recognition software may go a step too far.
“It’s a changing landscape but we’re always going to be sensitive about respecting the customer’s boundaries,” said spokesman Colin Johnson.
Others say profiling customers raises legal and ethical issues. U.S. and European Union regulations permit the use of cameras for security purposes, though retailers need to put up signs in their stores warning customers they may be filmed. Watching people solely for commercial gain may break the rules and could be viewed as gathering personal data without consent, says Christopher Mesnooh, a partner at law firm Field Fisher Waterhouse in Paris.
“If you go on Facebook, before you start the registration process, you can see exactly what information they are going to collect and what they’re going to do with it,” said Mesnooh. “If you’re walking into a store, where’s the choice?”
So far Almax hasn’t faced obstacles to selling the dummy, CEO Catanese said. Since the EyeSee doesn’t store any images, retailers can use it as long as they have a closed-circuit television license, he said.
Some clients have asked for the Eyesee to be rigged to recognize employees so they don’t muddy the picture of customer behavior. In those cases, workers have to agree to be filmed, says Catanese. That option may be extended to shoppers, where loyal spenders would be invited to opt-in in return for rewards, he said.
“The retail community is starting to get wise to the opportunity around personalization,” said Lorna Hall, retail editor at fashion forecaster WGSN. “The golden ticket is getting to the point where they’ve got my details, they know what I bought last time I came in.”
To give the EyeSee ears as well as eyes, Almax is testing technology that recognizes words to allow retailers to eavesdrop on what shoppers say about the mannequin’s attire. Catanese says the company also plans to add screens next to the dummies to prompt customers about products relevant to their profile, much like cookies and pop-up ads on a website.
Too much sophistication could backfire, says Hall, because it’s a fine line between technology that helps and technology that irks.
A promotional prompt or a reminder about where to find women’s shoes “could become a digital version of a very pushy sales assistant,” she said. “And we all know how we feel about those.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Roberts in Paris at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Celeste Perri at email@example.com
Apple made many notable announcements at yesterday's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). But less attention has gone to the fleet of spy planes bringing Apple's new aerial mapping software down to earth.
Also eyeing the competition is Google, who's mapping software will be replaced by Apple's new offering in iOS devices this Fall. Similarly, Google is said to have launched its own fleet of spy planes. Making the friendly skies a little less so.
With a resolution capible of focusing on objects as small as four inches, sunbathers might want to embrace their tan lines this Summer.
The ICO re-opened its investigation after a US probe uncovered more detail about the data captured Google is back under investigation after gathering personal data while cameras on its cars took pictures for its UK Street View service.
The Information Commissioner’s Office previously dropped a probe into the affair after being told limited data had been “mistakenly collected”.
However, it said it had since become aware of reports that a Google engineer had deliberately written software to obtain a wider range of material.
The ICO has asked for more information.
This breach has already been confirmed by the big processors, and seems to be larger in scope than prior breaches.
Sarkozy: Anyone who "consults Internet sites which promote terror" should go to jail | http://t.co/u34fQrH8
In another astonishing development in the Megaupload saga, a judge in New Zealand’s High Court has declared the order used to seize Kim Dotcom’s assets as “null and void”. The blunder, which occurred because the police applied for the wrong type of court order, means that the Megaupload founder could have his property returned.
Just when it seemed that the handling of the Megaupload case couldn’t get any more controversial, a development from New Zealand has taken things to the next level.
Following the raids on Kim Dotcom’s mansion in January, police seized millions of dollars worth of property belonging to the Megaupload founder. But thanks to a police blunder, he could now see all of those assets returned.
On Friday, Justice Judith Potter in the High Court declared the order used to seize Dotcom’s property “null and void” after it was discovered that the police had acted under a court order that should have never been granted.
The error dates back to January when the police applied for the order granting them permission to seize Dotcom’s property. Rather than applying for an interim restraining order, the Police Commissioner applied for a foreign restraining order instead, one which did not give Dotcom a chance to mount a defense.
According to New Zealand Herald, on January 30th prosecution lawyer Anne Toohey wrote to the court explaining that the wrong order had been applied for and detailed five errors with the application.
Justice Potter said that police commissioner Peter Marshall tried to correct the error by applying for the correct order after the raids were completed and retrospectively adding the items already seized.
Although the correct order was eventually granted albeit on a temporary basis, Potter said she will soon rule on whether the “procedural error” will result in Dotcom having his property returned.
The Crown is arguing that since the new order was granted the earlier error no longer matters, but Dotcom’s legal team framed it rather differently by describing the seizure of assets as “unlawful”.
Whether the assets are returned will rest on Dotcom’s legal team showing a lack of “good faith” in connection with the blunder. A hearing to decide if the assets will be returned will take place next week.