“Smart vending machines”? Invasive or private?

Defining privacy is one of those expositions that could fall right in with politics, religion, or sex. Please don’t bring those topics up at holiday parties, cocktail parties, or anywhere near Happy Hour. Privacy it seems has definitions that are far and away different depending on whose version we’re going to use.

We believe that people have a natural right to be left alone; of being apart from others; furthermore, we believe that even at the primal levels of humankind we should be able to enjoy the freedom from attention of others’ observations, intrusions, or the attention of others.

However one need not be a celebrity or some kind of super-star to realize the conflicts in law, in government, the right of information that the press is privy to, namely protecting “sources” upon which they gather some of their information. Now having stated that let’s look at some highly critical issues.

Wiretapping – is this the invasion of a person’s privacy? Government intrusions into one’s private affairs? Do we think our homes as being private property and the sanctity from other people? How about our bedrooms? How about our mail sent to us and only us by someone we know; are these matters of privacy?

In a quick answer on the one hand “yes”; however, according to others including police, government officials, state officials, the judiciary system it is all a matter of what is going on; therefore, we would have to say that on the other hand the answer is “no.”


A “smart” vending machine that analyses users’ age and gender has been launched in the US by Intel and Kraft Foods. The iSample is being used to offer customers trials of a new dessert. It allows Kraft to tailor the product to the shopper, and exclude children from the adult-focused promotion.

Intel says it intends to retrofit the technology to existing vending machines to allow companies to study what types of people are buying their products.

The machine uses an optical sensor fitted to the top of the machine to recognize the shape of the human face. A computer processor then carries out a series of calculations based on measurements such as the distance between the eyes, nose and ears.

These are used to determine the sex of the shopper and place them in one of four age brackets. This data is then used to determine what, if any, product the shopper should be served.

“We have trained the software to do this via machine learning on a bunch of pictures of human faces.

“It does the calculations very quickly right there on the machine – it does not need to go off into the internet or cloud – and then based on that will recognize that you fit a certain demographic.”

Intel stress that the machine does not take any photographs or video, so there is no footage for hackers to steal or employees to misuse.

Kraft is using the devices to trial Temptations – a jelly-based dessert. The product is marketed as “the first Jell-O that’s just for adults”, so if the machine detects a child it asks them to step away.

To maximize the opportunity, the firm has picked two busy locations for the initial roll-out: The Shedd Aquarium in Chicago and the South Street Seaport ferry service in New York.

“We only have two iSample machines in the US so far, as this is a test and learn from experience,” said Ed Kaczmarek, director of innovations and consumer experiences at Kraft.

“Our ultimate goal is to bring value to both our retailers and our brands by better understanding consumer engagement with our products.

“We can do so much more with the iSample program. Tied to specific marketing campaigns, we can customize the experience in order to reach out to consumers more efficiently.”

Adidas used it to power a huge video touch wall that displayed the company’s shoes to shoppers, selecting which type according to whether they were male or female.

Harley Davidson used a specially created electronic sign in Toronto to track when there were more women in its stores. Motorcycle sales to women were on the rise and the firm wanted to know when it was best to put more saleswomen in its showrooms

Razor-maker Gillette, mobile phone firm HTC, the Venetian Casino in Las Vegas, Citibank and United Airlines have also tested variations of the technology. And Intel says it has only just started.

“We could put in additional information, like if consumers are wearing a logo,” said Ms Tinsley. “If a retailer like Kraft wants to know did they smile or not after getting the sample, which would be interesting.

“$1bn [£640m] globally is spent on product sampling, so certainly we could provide technologies into that sector, but we see the bigger markets being digital signage as well as intelligent vending,” said Ms Tinsley.

This is all well and good but where is the human interaction? Marketing research data can be collected in a multiple of ways and could jump – start an economy.

One complete area that exists that is not mentioned is misuse of the data. They may not have cameras or video machines in them now, but what’s to stop them in the future?

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