ZKB and Raiffeisen test intelligent advertising screens - without customers' knowledge

Personalized advertising is also making inroads in the out-of-home sector. Two Swiss banks are currently running pilot projects. Data protectionists warn - many legal questions are still open.

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How the Switzerland at the weekend writes in its current issue, the first companies in Switzerland have begun using intelligent advertising screens. Zürcher Kantonalbank, for example, has been using screens that display content tailored to customers since May. For example, 30-year-olds see Twint ads, 40-year-olds see retirement packages and 60-year-olds see estate options - the latter is "a bit brutal," a ZKB employee told the newspaper. Even children are recognized, with the ZKB mascot Filou appearing on them.

This is made possible by three cameras on the ceiling. These record customers without their knowledge. According to the ZKB, no information is required, as neither faces are recorded nor stored. The Raiffeisen Bank in St. Gallen is currently testing a similar application.

Technically behind the smart screens is the St. Gallen-based startup Advertimawhich, after its rapid launch, has already opened offices in Germany, Thailand and Argentina. Algorithms are fed hundreds of thousands of images and thus learn how women and men look, for example. The technology is also supposed to be able to analyze people's moods - that is, notice whether someone is laughing or looking grim. In addition, it should be possible in the future to recognize people's "real" emotional state based on the analysis of microexpressions.

Migros is investor

Advertima CEO and co-founder Iman Nahvi asserts that data protection experts have repeatedly confirmed that the company is operating within the law. Cameras are not used in sensitive stores such as pharmacies, for example.

Many advertisers are interested in the technology - some of them quite specifically, it seems. Migros Genossenschafts-Bund, for example, has been a strategic partner of Advertima since 2015 and an investor since 2017.

In the current tests of the ZKB and the Raiffeisenbank, they refrained from informing customers because it was not legally necessary and they were "only" pilot projects, says Nahvi to Schweiz am Sonntag. However, communication strategies have been prepared for the definitive launch. The aim is to make it clear to people that this is a "friendly, trustworthy technology.

Legal gray area

From a data protection perspective, the issue is not quite as unproblematic as advertisers make it out to be. Even if, in the case of ZKB, access to the completely anonymized data should not be possible - neither by ZKB itself, nor by Advertima or other third parties. The Federal Data Protection Commissioner has not yet dealt with this technology, says a spokeswoman. However, passers-by would have to be informed if facial recognition was used for advertising purposes. Ultimately, biometric data is involved and the goal is personalized advertising - so the argument that no personal data is collected does not hold water.

ZHAW marketing lecturer Adrienne Suvada also finds it tricky that passers-by are not made aware of the analysis. However, specific legislation for the use of such technologies is still lacking.

Suvada is probably right in her assessment that many people would not appreciate this without consent. The example of Valora shows this: In 2016, the company analyzed cell phone data in the Zurich main station (Werbewoche.ch reported) and received a shitstorm for it. And the German supermarket chain ended a project in 2017 after critical feedback, in which customers were analyzed at the checkout in order to play them age- and gender-appropriate advertising. (hae)

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