ONTD Political

Face-Recognizing Billboard Only Displays Ad To Women

7:11 pm - 02/22/2012
Face-Recognizing Billboard Only Displays Ad To Women
Source - Tech Crunch
Devin Coldewey
February 21, 2012


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Moral ambiguity, thy name is advertising. How are we to parse this advertising campaign in London in which an intelligent bus stop billboard only displays its content to women? You read correctly: the billboard has a camera that scans passersby and if one stops to look, it determines their sex and shows them a 40-second video if they are female. Males only get a link to the advertiser’s website.

Now, does it change things if the advertiser is Plan UK, a non-profit organization trying to raise money toward the education of girls in third-world countries? And they don’t show men because they wanted to give them “a glimpse of what it’s like to have basic choices taken away”? Whether you find this commendable or reprehensible, you have to admit that the technology and implications are more than a little interesting.

TechCrunch isn’t really the venue for the discussion of gender politics, so we’ll abstract this one level and look at the campaign from another angle. First, the installation costs £30,000 for a two-week placement, so it’s not like these are going to start appearing on every street corner. And the system claims a 90 percent accuracy rate, a figure that is perhaps optimistic. The 10 percent of people mistaken for the opposite sex will be somewhat unhappy.

Incidentally, here’s the video that 90 percent of females and 10 percent of males will see:


(I think this is an extended version)

But think about the possibilities if you aren’t using some sensitive information as your content arbiter. What if you load up a hundred videos of people in different outfits, and then match that to whatever the person viewing the ad is wearing? “Nice red blazer. But we like this one better. Only $25 at H&M.” Or perhaps an advertisement aimed at people with children or holding babies.

In this case, the ad’s form of tailoring the experience is to exclude people. Useful for making a statement, but not so much for driving sales or donations.

One thing is sure: this particular campaign is going to raise hell, and the companies behind it are going to be answering calls and emails for months. Plan UK’s CEO, Marie Staunton, says:

Millions of girls across the globe are being denied the right and choice to have an education. This ad is a deliberate attempt to raise public debate on this issue. Although we’re not giving men and boys the choice to see the full ad on this occasion – so we get a glimpse of what it’s like to have basic choices taken away – boys and men play a vital role in helping girls to be all they can be.

It may also raise public debate on the nature of advertising. That’s probably a good thing, considering ads have been more or less the same since they first gained traction in the 19th century. Sometimes a controversy like this is a powerful way of moving things forward.

You can learn more about the campaign here and donate if you like — or give the organization some feedback.



Statement from Plan UK's Website:

Only Girls Allowed

Plan UK’s campaign, which highlights the plight of the world’s poorest girls, launches a groundbreaking interactive ad on a bus stop in Oxford Street on February 22.

The advert uses facial recognition software with an HD camera to determine whether a man or woman is standing in front of the screen, and shows different content accordingly.

Passing shoppers can opt-in to view the ad and find out more about Plan’s work to help some of the world’s poorest girls. Men and boys are denied the choice to view the full content in order to highlight the fact that women and girls across the world are denied choices and opportunities on a daily basis due to poverty and discrimination.

Plan’s Because I am a Girl campaign aims to support four million girls in developing countries to have more choices about what they do with their life.

Currently, 75 million girls around the world are being denied the right to an education; every year 10 million girls in developing countries are coerced or forced into marriage under the age of 18, with thousands of girls each year giving birth when they are still children themselves.

A 40-second Choices for Girls advert showcases three 13 year old girls: Jasmine from the UK, Bintou from Mali and Sur from Thailand.

The girl’s voices are intercut with everyday footage of their lives, revealing the three teens’ hopes and dreams and highlighting the choices that many girls are denied in developing countries.

The technology behind the advert is a UK first in interactive advertising, amalgamating facial recognition, touch screen and sound.

“Millions of girls across the globe are being denied the right and choice to have an education. This ad is a deliberate attempt to raise public debate on this issue. Plan’s Because I am a Girl campaign works with women and men, girls and boys, to challenge the discrimination that girls face as a result of their sex. We work to challenge negative stereotypes.” says Plan UK CEO Marie Staunton.

“If girls like Bintou and Sur had the same choices as girls like Jasmine in the UK they’d be more likely to stay in school and have greater choice and opportunity in the future.”

“Although we’re not giving men and boys the choice to see the full ad on this occasion – so we get a glimpse of what it’s like to have basic choices taken away – boys and men play a vital role in helping girls to be all they can be. Men and boys are also invited to join ‘the Plan’ to give girls choices. We look forward to hearing the public’s thoughts at #choicesforgirls.” adds Ms Staunton.

The gender facial recognition advert will be trialled at an Oxford Street bus stop opposite Selfridges for a two-week period. To find out more about the advert and see the film in full, visit choicesforgirls.org.uk.


Isn't this at a busy bus stop? Wouldn't guys see it anyway if women are around?
bleed_peroxide 23rd-Feb-2012 01:42 pm (UTC)
*nod nod* That was one of my first thoughts - "what if someone doesn't want their facial features to be used for determining their gender?" It's in a public place, and being publicly outted like that would be mortifying, not to mention it opens them up for being harassed, or worse.

Edited at 2012-02-23 01:42 pm (UTC)
vvalkyri 23rd-Feb-2012 04:53 pm (UTC)
Article does mention that it only scans folk who stop long enough to look, but yes, I could see some problems, particularly when one thinks of how mean kids can be.
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