Last updated: March 8, 2010 - 9:47am
Using technology from top Silicon Valley companies such as Cisco and Intel, advertisers are creating a new breed of digital signs that can be customized depending on a viewer's age and gender.
Already starting to appear in selected malls and other spots around the country, the signs have the potential to revolutionize the retailing industry, but their intrusiveness has led to criticism from privacy advocates and nervousness from some in the marketing industry itself. "The vast majority of people walking in stores, near elevators and in other public and private spaces have no idea that the innocent-looking flat screen TVs playing videos may be capturing their images and then dissecting and analyzing them for marketing purposes," the nonprofit, Southern California-based World Privacy Forum warned in a report it issued on digital signs in January. "Controls need to be put in place now, before this technology runs amok." Businesses insist the signs are good for them and for consumers because they can offer more focused and effective advertising. And the burgeoning market has caught the eye of Silicon Valley companies. Among them is San Jose-based Cisco Systems, which makes gear that displays images and management software for the signs. It's not a huge business yet for the company, according to Thomas Wyatt, general manager of Cisco's digital media systems unit. But, he said, it's growing, adding "these are really emerging technologies."
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