The Tiresome “DOOH Cameras Are Spying On Me Thing” Is Back, This Time In Greater Vancouver
September 17, 2021 by Dave Haynes
The age-old “those cameras are spying on me” thing, involving digital OOH ad displays, has reared its tiresome head yet again, this time in lower mainland British Columbia.
Business In Vancouver has a story up this week that poses the inflammatory question: Is your bus stop watching you again?
Well, yes, kinda sorta, but not really. And you really shouldn’t care either way, given the purpose.
The story gets into how the media companies Pattison Outdoor, Outfront and JCDecaux have digital street furniture along transit routes in parts of metro Vancouver that have cameras, or what are often called sensors, because cameras are regarded in some circles as sinister in this context.
There are a couple of nutty things about this lengthy post, which is trying really hard to go, “BOO!!!”
First, the media companies all say they’re either not using the cameras for anonymous video analytics, or anything (they’re disabled in the software), or that they’re being used briefly overnight to verify that screens are working and validate campaign booking. The conspiracy crowd will argue they’re lying, but …
Second, the only barely smoking gun this thing seems to come up with is that some of the digital displays at street level have missing stickers that are supposed to cover the teeny camera position. AHA!!! So sinister.
The larger story here – which unfortunately needs to get jackhammered over and over – is that EVEN IF these cameras were working and even if they were using anonymous video analytics, the machine learning/AI being applied just does pattern detection on the video feed to try to determine basic demographics and viewer counts. They don’t have the ability or photo database to capture faces, compare against an archive, and decide, “Oh, there’s Dave, push an ad for big Aussie red wines at him now. Hurry, he’s a live one!!!”
The whole point of audience measurement is to understand who is looking and when, and allow media planners to make more informed choices about where they should book campaigns. If you don’t like ads on the street, that’s fine, but that’s something to take up with your local government.
The AI companies I know that sell into the DOOH sector and digital signage, like AdMobilize, Quividi and Sightcorp, take great pains to emphasize how they adhere to well-established “privacy by design” principles. But the broader industry kicks itself in the shin over and over by falsely or lazily describing this whole thing as facial recognition. It’s not. It is similar but different from anonymous video analytics, the latter which just looks for machine-learned patterns and then discards the video frames it analyzes.
But being accurate about what’s going on is way less scary and click bait-y than suggesting something sinister is going on, ‘cuz cameras.