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Anthony Patterson is Professor of Marketing in the University of Liverpool’s Management School
“Tesco’s recent announcement that it is introducing facial recognition CCTV cameras in some petrol stations has prompted some alarmists to fear that the arrival of a corporate-sponsored Orwellian state creeps ever closer.
“It’s an instinctive response, of course, that people do not want to be identified when they pop out for a pint of milk or a packet of fags. They generally don’t look their best at such times, especially those who tackle such shopping errands with their hair pinned up in rollers or while wearing last night’s pyjamas.
“The thought of being filmed and scrutinised, even if it is just by the cold, dead eye of technology, is disconcerting. It ranks up there with the fear one has of being immortalised as just another haunted looking fellow in a police mug shot, or of being found at the scene of an accident wearing anything less than your best underwear.
“It is important to note that the technology of which I speak does not yet have the capability to recognise people as individuals. And yet many of us display equal animosity towards any attempt that seeks to classify us as part of an aggregate dataset. Something in us rails against even this.
“The sentiment Douglas Copeland captured in a chapter title of his famous book, Generation X: “I am not a target market”, sums up the desire people have not be labelled, or pigeon-holed in any way. Imagine, for instance, the sheer despair one might feel as a 43 year mother of 3 if you were correctly identified as such, and adverts for nappies, divorce counsellors, or heaven forbid, Tena panty liners were streamed, in full view of other customers, in your ear and eyeshot?
“Yes, the arrival of these all-seeing cameras might not signal the installation of an Orwellian state, but they will damage the ability of consumers to imagine themselves as other than that which they are. This is ironic, of course, because without the ability to imagine oneself as someone else completely, one’s dalliance with consumerism will become muted, which is precisely the opposite reaction Tesco were hoping for.”
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