Your face will soon be scanned by Tesco: How adverts are about to become discriminating

At first glance, the Sugar screen-camera might seem a harmless form of surveillance

Share

When I go online, my internet server likes to offer me candid shots from the world of celebrity. Wardrobe malfunctions – a rogue nipple or a flash of knicker at a film premiere – are a regular feature on its home page, as are zany videos involving cats or weather forecasters swearing on camera.

Similarly, if I watch a football match on Sky, the advertisements seem aimed at a very stupid, loud man in his twenties, with a weakness for gambling. It is worrying to be treated as an immature moron for so much of the time, not least because there is something contagious about this cleverly marketed stupidity. One can so easily end up watching Miley Cyrus’s twerking video or having a small bet on how many goals Norwich are going to concede.

Suddenly, though, something far worse has appeared. Advertisements are about to become discriminating. Soon they could be reflecting back at you the sort of goods which are thought likely to appeal to someone of your age, gender and buying habits. We knew the internet was gathering information about shopping habits to sell more to us, and that supermarkets were playing the same trick with their loyalty cards, but now, with the friendly help of Lord Sugar, Tesco is going further.

In its petrol forecourts and shops, the supermarket chain is to introduce screens which, while they appear to be advertising to you, will in fact be scrutinising your face, assessing you and your reaction to the sales message. The data will instantly be fed back to the advertisers. According to the chief executive of the signage company Amscreen, a younger Sugar called Simon, “This could change the face of British retail.”

At first glance, the Sugar screen-camera might seem a harmless form of surveillance. After all, if you buy a book, CD or DVD online, most websites will suggest alternative titles which may interest you. In an age in which convenience is all, some might say being surrounded by large companies which watch you, analyse your taste and then cater to it will save time for the more important things in life.

They would be wrong. Like the blobbish humanoids in the Disney film Wall-E, we are waddling our way to a state of dependence on big corporations and government, preferring indolence to the effort of independence. Over the past few weeks, there has been extraordinarily little fuss about the revelation that the state is subjecting its citizens to mass surveillance. If the market allows and encourages Tesco, Lord Sugar and other powerful interested parties to peer at us through their screens, the invisible wall closes in still further.

Government and business will be happy to work together on this great project of soft control. Already, Tesco has indicated that, in a spirit of social conscience, it might use “nudge tactics” to deal with the problem of its customers’ obesity through information gathered from their loyalty cards.

Apart from the privacy issues, a society which increasingly reflects back to citizens – through advertisements, through internet search engines – a corporate view of their needs, opinions and desires will lose cohesion and strength. It is through being exposed to the surprising, to the behaviour and views of others who are different that we retain what makes us human.

Reduced to consumer units, we become more dependent, less courageous, easier to manipulate. Individuality will be eroded in the name of profit and control.

Eventually, with all those decisions being made for us, we shall indeed be left to do those “more important things in life”. Take a look at the commercials on TV today to get an idea of how that will be – sunny days, a ukulele being played, smiling faces, cute dogs, someone whistling a tune. And at the end of it all, the voice of a caring multinational reassuring us that it is there to listen to us, to take the strain, because every little helps.

Twitter: @TerenceBlacker

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Deputy Editor: i’s Review of the Year

Andrew Webster
RIP Voicemail?  

Voicemail has got me out of some tight corners, so let's not abandon it

Simon Kelner
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all