Lights that track you are cool, not creepy

It's a sobering paradox of today's connected digital world: technology that eases our daily lives also comes with its potential dark side. We gaily click away to buy, browse, carouse, collaborate and entertain. In the process, we give away astonishing amounts of personal information that could easily fall into the wrong hands.

And so it is that here at Lux we often pause and reflect on the ramifications of the fledgling internet of things in which LED light networks are the backbone of an information infrastructure, helping to gather and transmit data on everything from people's location to traffic and parking conditions to shopping patterns to air quality and temperature.

With that sort of capability and potential for good, it does indeed seem that there is also a would-be nefarious side. An opening for spies and other scoundrels.

The potential for abuse includes one of the latest and hottest bits of connected lighting technology: visible light communication (VLC), in which LED ceiling lights track individual shoppers around cavernous physical world stores and guide them straight to discounts and promotions of specific interest to them, by linking to an app and map on their smartphone.

VLC is one of several technologies that retailers are using for 'in-store location' systems. Target has deployed VLC in a small number of stores in the US, and Carrefour is using it in a store in northern France. (click on those links for a more detailed explanation of how the technology works). Other retailers are also using it, in stealth mode.

But should we be concerned about things like privacy invasion? (Maybe that's why some retailers decline to acknowledge their use of VLC).

No. Just the opposite, if you believe a recent poll of shoppers. In-store location and its sibling technology, in-store interactive maps are above all else really 'cool', according to the 'Creepy or Cool?' survey of 1,000 people in the UK conducted by the firm RichRelevance, as reported by  Retail Design  World.

It notes that '72 per cent of UK consumers find personalisation of product recommendations based on purchasing habits to be cool,' and that, 'shoppers also welcome location-based personalisation in-store, with 63 per cent giving that a cool rating.'

The findings echo the results of a GE study that concluded that shoppers don't mind sharing personal data via the lights, although GE might be inclined to say that, given it is one of the purveyors of lighting-based in-store tracking systems, as is Philips, Acuity and others. (The Creepy or Cool?  verdicts also came via a group interested in seeing some positive attitudes on the subject. RichRelevance describes itself as 'the global leader in omnichannel personalisation.')

So, did anything spook the shoppers? Yes. facial recognition, as well as personalised welcome greetings.

'70 per cent of respondents say that facial recognition technology, which identifies age and gender to display recommendations, is creepy,' the article stated. 'Even more people, over three quarters of British consumers, would find it creepy to be greeted by name on entering a store because they had been identified by their phones.'

So let that much be a warning to VLC vendors, since VLC could conceivably play a role in such greeting systems – if, say, lighting-based VLC recognises that the customer has just entered the store and subsequently queues up the message greeting.

But use the lights to guide shoppers to 3-for-the-price-of-2 hotdogs, and they just might find that pretty cool.

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Photo is from Montgomery County Planning Commission via Flickr. VLC is not necessarily in operation at the pictured Target.

Comments 1

hi lux is there an easy way to download your articles, get it in a Word or pdf format? please consider it a compliment to quality and relevance. kind regards flemming, DOLL (appearing last year in LUX with the DOLL labs) PS: by the way, DOLL is moving to NeXT stage of integration of city lights and smart urban services this autumn. new grant from Danish energy agency, new Companies, 8-10 sensor systems, ,controls etc.

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