Rhodri Marsden: Dear Tesco, our relationship is becoming a bit creepy

 

I'd like to invite you to play a mercifully short game that involves glancing at my byline picture and making broad generalisations about the kind of stuff I might like to buy. I'm evidently the embodiment of irresistible masculinity, so what do you reckon?

If you're thinking beer, bread and HDMI cables, you're probably not far off the mark – but technology is now making these kind of assessments with greater accuracy and slightly less coercion. Behold, the in-store TV screen with a camera that detects your age and gender, shows advertisements tailored to your perceived needs, and watches your disgusted reaction as it displays an ad for a Stannah stairlift.

These are soon to be unveiled in the starkly lit mini marts adjoining Tesco's 450 petrol forecourts. Going by the puntastic name of OptimEyes, they've been deftly slotted into the petrol-purchasing experience by Lord Sugar's Amscreen company and are, according to Sugar's son, set to "change the face of British retail" in a way that annoys people like me.

I first read about these screens in 2010. The Japanese company NEC announced a similar system, which would, it said, deliver particularly good results if the customer were standing still. (What better place to situate them than in an interminable queue to pay for petrol?)

But over the past three years, targeted advertising, both online and off, has provoked arguments that have become well-rehearsed and deeply entrenched. Those who rail against it are dismissed as paranoid; they're told that anonymous data analysis doesn't breach privacy, that fighting it will stymie the growth of the advertising industry and penalise companies who seek cost-effective advertising.

OptimEyes will soon be seen in Tesco's petrol station mini marts OptimEyes will soon be seen in Tesco's petrol station mini marts
But you don't have to be a flag-waving privacy campaigner to find OptimEyes, "smart shelves" and other nascent technology of this kind, tediously invasive. At least with targeted online advertising you have the option to activate a "Do Not Track" setting in your browser; you can't do that in Tesco unless you upturn a basket and place it on your head, or avoid the place entirely and run out of petrol two miles up the road. Either way, it's a hollow victory.

Our senses are already engaged in a constant, low-level battle against sales pitches, whether it's screechingly loud TV ads or smells pumped out of the bakery section of the supermarket. Targeted schemes desperately try to create a two-way relationship with us, but it's one of those dysfunctional relationships in which the other person desperately wants you but you're barely interested in them.

The reassurance that the banishment of irrelevant ads will lead to a blissful utopia where sponsors' messages delight and engage us just doesn't ring true; these schemes aren't designed to be altruistic.

In Tesco's case, it's about categorising the five million people who queue up for their petrol each week according to age, gender and whatever categories future software upgrades might permit.

At least, for the time being, it'll fall short of the capabilities of the ad screens in the film Minority Report, which were described by their creator as being able to "not only recognise you, but also your state of mind". But in anticipation of such a time, maybe Tesco could line up a few ads specifically tailored for people who are feeling weary of being specifically tailored for.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
News
i100
Extras
indybest
News
peopleLiam Williams posted photo of himself dressed as Wilfried Bony
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice finalists Mark Wright and Bianca Miller
tvBut who should win The Apprentice?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Support Analyst - Bristol

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An IT Support Analyst is required to join the ...

    Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

    £50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

    Ashdown Group: Part time Network Support Analyst / Windows Systems Administrat

    £30 per hour: Ashdown Group: An industry leading and well established business...

    Day In a Page

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

    Marian Keyes

    The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick