Advertising Screens Guess Your Age And Gender

Dennis Faas's picture

A UK retailer has installed advertising screens that can scan a customer's face. The screens, which will be installed by Tesco at its many gas stations, then shows an advertisement based on its reading of the person's age and gender.

The move has prompted criticism from privacy advocates, while others question how accurate the system will be.

The screens are the work of Amscreen, a company owned by British businessman Alan Sugar. Sugar made a name for himself with the Amstrad computer back in the 1980s.

Now he's made a deal to supply screens to 450 Tesco gas stations across the United Kingdom.

Screens Scan Faces in Less Than a Second

The idea is to have the screens placed near the checkout area. Using a camera and software called OptimEyes, the system scans the customer's face and tries to figure out their gender and whether they are a child, a young adult (aged 15-35), an older adult (35-65), or a senior citizen (older than 65).

In ideal lighting conditions the scan can take as little as 0.2 seconds to complete with a 98 per cent accuracy rating. That means one in every 50 people will be shown the "wrong" advertisement and errors could be more noticeable if a gas station is particularly busy. (Source:

The style of advertisements displayed will depend on the location of the store, the time of year, and the time of day.

To work out age and gender, the system uses "hundreds" of clues from facial features. Some are more reliable, such as the space between parts of the face -- a clue that can help determine age.

Hair Length Among Gender Clues

Others are less reliable: for example, the system will look for dark patches on either side of the chin, which could indicate long hair more often found on a woman. The creators of the system say it doesn't rely on any one factor, so it shouldn't start showing "female" ads to a long-haired man.

They also note that the system doesn't store any data, doesn't scan retinas, and doesn't actually create an image of the entire face -- instead, it simply looks for patterns.

But privacy advocates aren't satisfied. A spokesman for the group 'Big Brother Watch' warned that the system could be abused by taking a picture of a face and searching for it on Facebook to get more detailed information about a customer's tastes. (Source:

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