A convenience store in Okegawa, Japan, has recently been revealed to be one of the most technologically advanced in the world. Most prominent among the technologies in this so-called 'smart shop' is a CCTV system that uses facial recognition software to recognise returning customers. The camera network covers every inch of the shop, and can match a customer's face to a database held by the shop within seconds. HD cameras within the store also track gender, age and time of visit.
The store is the work of Panasonic, who claim that the systems used within it are extremely accurate and sophisticated. The latest 'smart shop' technology is revealed just a week after the massive supermarket store Tesco announced that it will to install hi-tech screens that scan customers' faces in petrol stations so that advertisements can be better targeted at them.
This is not the only example of company's gathering data on their customers in order to better catalogue, understand and target them. In fact, huge amounts of effort now go into customer profiling, and customer data is an extremely valuable commodity. Such schemes as the Nectar card scheme which Sainsbury's run have been criticised for invasively cataloguing customer data. It seems that all of retail behaviour nowadays is feverishly collected, constantly scanned and catalogued in an attempt to better understand our behaviour to make us even more ideal consumers.
I say "more ideal" because we are already pretty ideal consumers as it is. At this time of year when we all rush out obediently to spend money we don't have on things that we don't need, in order to celebrate a birth that many of us don't believe occurred, one might not unreasonably argue that we're already pretty ideal consumers. Research that was released just over a week ago indicate that as many as one-million people in Britain will use the heavily criticised payday loan providers in order to fund their Christmas this year; certainly a reflection of economic malaise, but also perhaps indicative of how we've forgotten that the best things in life were supposed to be free.
But it's one thing to gather data on customers in order to manipulate people into buying your products. It's quite different to create what can reasonably be described as an Orwellian environment in which every customer is monitored constantly during the time they spend in a store. If we went back a few decades, the idea of having our faces constantly scanned, of having our every move subject to camera, would have been repulsive and the stuff of dystopian science-fiction. Now it's just reality. You have to wonder whether at some point we should stop cooperating with the companies that treat the public in what I would consider such a contemptuous fashion.
Christopher Morris has wasted almost his entire life playing video games, right back to the original Space Invaders, and is a regular contributor to Yahoo on television, cinema, video games, technology and politics.
More articles from Christopher Morris: