I recently came across an article on the New York Times website which provided documentation of a woman’s “data trail” during an ordinary day.  The scope of surveillance that each individual is under everytime they step out the door is truly astonishing when you take time to think about.

One particular entry grabbed my attention a bit more than the others:

(6) 10:45 a.m.: Passed by “smart sign” (digital billboard with cameras that gauges demographics of passers-by) that delivers ads tailored to the demographics of the passer-by.

Frankly, I had thought such billboards still only existed in the realm of futuristci sci-fi worlds (think Minority Report and Total Recall), but they have apparently been around for nearly a year now.  Needless to say, such technological developments are going to require us all to reassess our expectations regarding privacy.  Moreover, this will start to raise a classic “can you, should you” dilemma for consumers and companies alike.

For example, as an advertiser, you now “can” use facial recognition technology to target advertisements to particular demographics viewing your billboard.  But “should” you?  As a consumer, I find it disturbing that anyone is willing to go so far to sell a few extra widgets.  Consumers have started to demonstrate a heightened sensitivity to privacy laws, given that laws, as opposed to practical and technological limitations, are becoming the sole obstacle to continued encroachment.  Just look at the continuously percolating interest in Facebook’s privacy issues.

Ultimately, I think technological advancements create unique opportunities for delivering messages to consumers.  However, the enthusiasm for these advancements must be cautiously tempered so as to avoid creating the perception that your company is a shadowy figure lurking outside in the bushes.