Facial Recognition Technology + Video Screens = Creepy Dunkin' Donuts Ads?

The Wall Street Journal says that Dunkin’ Donuts is experimenting with video screens that use facial recognition technology to figure out your age and gender. The screens then display ads targeted specifically to you.


Dunkin’ Donuts is also tailoring the cash register ads to your specific purchase. If you buy a breakfast sandwich, you can expect an ad prompting you to return “for a coffee break in the afternoon” to “try an oven-toasted pizza.” The system is already in place at two Buffalo, NY locations.

More creepiness from the WSJ:

In a separate test, Procter & Gamble is placing radio-frequency identification tags on products at a Metro Extra retail store in Germany so that when a customer pulls the product off the shelf, a digital screen at eye level changes its message. When a consumer picks out a shampoo for a particular type of hair, for instance, the screen recommends the most appropriate conditioner or other hair products, says John Paulson, president of G2 Interactive, a digital-marketing arm of WPP Group’s G2 Network.

This comes as advertisers are spending more of their ad dollars on in-store marketing. Audience fragmentation and the waning power of television ads are forcing marketers to make their pitches and tout their brands when and where consumers are closer to making a purchase: in the store.

The WSJ says that the companies experimenting with this kind of technology “hope to ward off any potential privacy issues by not capturing and storing any personally identifiable information about consumers.” What do you think? Is this an invasion of your privacy? Or would you rather see more relevant ads?

The Ad Changes With the Shopper In Front of It
(Photo: stirwise )


Edit Your Comment

  1. qwickone says:

    Of course I would pick no ads, but if the choices are relevant ads or random ads, I guess I would choose relevant

  2. Darkwing_Duck says:

    I’m against it, but just as a matter of personal preference. I don’t think it’s an invasion of privacy-I don’t find it intrusive, but unnecessarily obtrusive.

    In 20 years,I bet projectors will be installed over urinals, displaying ads on my meat while I take a leak

  3. Darkwing_Duck says:

    @Darkwing_Duck: The way to protest this, of course, would be to refuse to look while you pee, thereby peeing all over the floor. Who’s with me


  4. Farquar says:

    Someone explain how this is an invasion of privacy for me.

    How would it be any different if they just had some guy standing there.. “Hey, I see you just picked up that shampoo for dry hair.. Have you seen this conditioner that would be a perfect compliment?” As a matter of fact PetCo has that guy. “I see you just picked up the Purina dog food specially formulated for fat dogs.. Have you seen our house brand?”

    The system has no idea who you are.. It only knows that you just picked up dandruff shampoo (or bought a half-caff venti, soy, double mocha). I really don’t get the concern.

  5. Darkwing_Duck says:

    @Farquar: It isn’t an invasion of privacy, it just is more officious than regular advertising

  6. YoniX says:

    Sounds a little too “Minority Report” for my tastes. No sir, I don’t like it.

  7. chiieddy says:

    @Farquar: My only concern with RFID tags directly attached to products is they can’t be turned off when you leave the store. That means, my shampoo is broadcasting I have it all the way home and when it’s in my bathroom.

    What’s to stop J&J from trolling my neighborhood with a reader and getting my street address because they know I have their products in my house from the RFID tag?

    While RFID tags aren’t supposed to broadcast long distances (I think they say 30 ft), that can be extended and readings have been taken from further.

  8. Opie says:

    Hmmm. What constitutes, say, a cruller face vs a fritter face?

  9. TechnoDestructo says:

    You aren’t going to get any idea what I would actually be interested in from my age and gender. For fuck’s sake, no one has yet been able to do it with my BROWSING HABITS.

    The problem isn’t the concept, I don’t think, it’s the fact that the only people who are advertising stuff are advertising crap that no one needs and hardly anyone (relative to the number of people who will see it) wants.

  10. StevieQ says:

    Buffalo, NY? Really?

  11. quirkyrachel says:

    I’m always interested in how sci-fi tends to be a prelude to real technological advances. Remember how this happened in Minority Report when Tom Cruise walks into a Gap store and gets a personalized ad? In that case they knew what he had bought previously. And even though they’re not going to store data, it still seems kind of creepy to have the computer know what you bought like that.

  12. PunditGuy says:

    “Stressed out, John Anderton? Need a vacation? Come to Aruba!”

    Whomever the futurist for that movie was deserves a huge pat on the back.

  13. pine22 says:

    /minority report’d

  14. samandiriel says:

    I don’t see it as being a privacy issue, as every store would have to have access to your personal private info and to do that you’d have had to authorize it’s release at some point. And I would imagine much like mailing and call lists you didn’t realize you’d be getting on when you filled out your catalog order, you could get your info wiped on request.

    Plus, I wouldn’t mind at all if the presented material was relevant and informative – save me time browsing on my cell phone! Unfortunately, any info is certain to be biased by whoever’s paying for the product (unlike a friendly employee, who has no immediate vested interest in having you purchase one particular product over another). I just couldn’t trust any actual info the shelf ads presented.

    And anyway, I don’t think a shelf tag would have the capacity to help inform consumers and aid them in making better purchases – I see them much more as being like a whiny kid saying ‘buy me THIS, mommy! buy me THIS!’


  15. Canino says:

    I bet this system is scrapped, but not because of the privacy issue but because people will complain when the system thinks you’re older than you are. The news stories won’t be about people worried about privacy. They’ll be about 40 year old women complaining they were targeted for AARP ads.

  16. SkokieGuy says:

    Hmmn, if the technology incorrectly guesses someone’s gender or age, would that be grounds for a discrimination suit against DD?

    Attorney: Dunkin Donuts advertised a Sausage Bagel & Mocha Latte to my client, an advertisment targeted to 20 year old males. My client, a 55 year old woman has been grievously injured by the clear case of mistaken gender and age-inappropriate advertisments. We demand $3,000,000 in punitive damages. And oh yeah, your coffee tastes like crap.

  17. Imaginary_Friend says:

    Lawsuit waiting to happen.

    @Farquar: Unless the customer signed a model release, this is an invasion of privacy. Just because the company claims the image will not be stored, that doesn’t give them permission to record and transmit it in the first place without a contract from the individual being filmed.

    Is there a notice posted above the establishment letting customers know that they are being filmed and subjected to facial recognition? Somebody was wearing their Bad Idea Jeans when they came up with this crap.

  18. Spamwich says:

    I wonder if it can tell if you’re wearing a “terrorist head scarf” around your neck and advertise appropriately…

  19. Jabberkaty says:

    I thought they already had these robots and just called them coffee jerks?

  20. The Great Aussie Evil says:

    I wonder if they’re actually going to insert your face in these ads… It’s gonna be weird seeing some model wearing my face drinking DD coffee.

  21. CJG says:

    @Farquar: It’s cause the computers are taking over.

  22. TangDrinker says:

    Well, they’ve had motion detection coupon dispensers on the shelves in grocery stores for years now. I’d love it if these targeted ads could point me in the direction of a product that would not make my skin crack break out due to the mystery chemicals in many cosmetics/lotions. I’d give up a fingernail clipping’s worth of DNA if they could do that.

  23. ShyConsumeristFantasy says:

    The funny thing about this Dunkin Donuts is that it’s not in Germany or Buffalo, NY. This Dunkin Donut is on Wabash Ave. across the street from the new Trump Plaza in Chicago, IL. I see this place everyday. They get A LOT of business.

  24. RandomHookup says:

    I interviewed someone recently and she told me that Dunkin Donuts experimented with putting video in all their stores solely for catching employees stealing from the till. There would be people sitting in a distant location, looking at the video and the register screen to determine if they were selling expensive items for cheap.

    It didn’t take off, mostly because the franchisees weren’t willing to pay for it.

  25. SkokieGuy says:

    @Imaginary_Friend: The courts have already ruled that when in public, there is no expectation of privacy, therefore a model release or such is not required when someone is photographed or recorded on the street.

    We are under pretty constant surveliance. Many cities have anti crime cameras, most stores have security cameras that record you, bank ATMS have cameras built in. I’m sure these Dunkin Donuts already had security cameras filming the customers and the register.

  26. Would this make the bottle of shampoo costs $20 because I also have to pay for RFID tags?

  27. SigmundTheSeaMonster says:

    Ads? I don’t want ads. I want Coupons! A Medium ‘nilla Latté hot, no sugar, and a choco chip muffin. Zoooooooooooom!

  28. SkokieGuy says:

    On a off-topic but reasonable related note:

    Has anyone had the new flatbread breakfast sandwiches as DD? They are under $3.00 and under 300 calories. I think the BEST fast food that can be obtained through a drive-through window. I frankly want to turn up my nose at anything DD would offer as fat and sugar laden crap, but these are good and actually semi-healthy (made with egg whites only)

    [NOT corporate shill, had one this morning].

  29. desertdust says:

    @Opie: For that you have to look at the butts.

  30. ThinkerTDM says:

    Hey Everybody! Joe Smith just bought some condoms! This guy is getting laid! Hey!
    By the way, Mr. Smith, can we suggest some KY Jelly, on sale this week? Or perhaps some Kleenex?

  31. digitalgimpus says:

    I recommended lube to people buying condoms in a store once… they got pissed off.

    I wonder how this will work out for Dunkin’ Donuts.

    //or am I?

  32. Jabronimus says:

    I would rather see LESS ads, relevant or otherwise.

  33. SadSam says:

    More ads make me sad. I would be prone to stay away from stores or establishments that tried this. To me this is like the constant upselling in some stores. I don’t want to be asked by the cashier if I need a bottled water or a subscription or etc. If I want these items I know how to make those purchases I’m tired of playing 20 questions.

    Now if you want to pay humans that are well trained and no what the heck they are talking about when it comes to the merchandise or can fetch me the right size or find something for me that matches I’m all for that.

  34. Invasion of privacy: no.
    Creepy: yes.

    One can assume that if I’m looking for a particular shampoo, then I’ll be likely to buy the conditioner from the same manufacturer. I’m not sure I need help. The last thing I need when shopping is to be nagged with hints as to what I should buy. I don’t pay much attention to advertising as it is, but this makes me want to do it even less.

  35. harvey_birdman_attorney_at_law says:

    This is why I buy as much as possible online, so I don’t have to deal with pushy, unknowledgable sales-staff, and soon obnoxious, unhelpful ads.

  36. HogwartsAlum says:

    I never look at ads now; I just buy what I want/need. If I can’t find it or am not sure, I ask a person. If I can’t find a person, I leave.

    I don’t know why they think people wouldn’t just tune these out.

  37. BrianDaBrain says:

    To be honest, I’d prefer targeted ads to random ads (though none is perferable), but this is just too much. I don’t need to see an ad everywhere I turn, especially if the ad is generated by what products I pick up off the shelf, or by *tremble* facial recognition software. Really, though, don’t the self-promoting ads already on the packaging accomplish this a lot less intrusively? To use the shampoo to conditioner example from the post, if I pick up a bottle of, say, Suave, it’s already got a blurb on the bottle about how I should buy the Suave conditioner too. This new stuff seems like overkill.

  38. desertdust says:

    @harvey_birdman_attorney_at_law: I really can’t understand this one. Web pages are the worst. I even get targeted ads based on the location of my internet connection on sites that sell nothing. Going back to an online shop gives you “Hey, you bought this piece of crap last time and we think you will like this piece of crap today.
    I find no invasion of privacy. Ad agencies are finding new and inventive ways to sell you and boost thier paychecks. I have an ignore button on my forehead.

  39. Imaginary_Friend says:

    @SkokieGuy: Yeah, I know about that, but being a passerby on the street is quite different than this situation.

    1. The customer is on private property once s/he enters the store and, it can be argued, has some expectation of privacy (security cameras notwithstanding).

    2. Yes, someone can photograph you on the street without permission, but the moment your image is used for a commercial purpose (which DD is definitely doing), a model release is required. This is why Google and other search engines blur faces to make people unrecognizable.

    3. RFID and legal/privacy issues are still pretty unsettled as far as I know. I think DD are taking a big risk proceeding this way, both legally and from a customer service standpoint. There area lot of people who aren’t tinfoil hat-wears who’d have a problem with this. They’d just as soon get their coffee and carb-bloat from some other store.

  40. Tzepish says:

    @TechnoDestructo: I’m a 26 year old male. Kudos to anyone who can tell me what I want based on that information alone.

  41. Canino says:

    @Tzepish: I’m a 26 year old male. Kudos to anyone who can tell me what I want based on that information alone.

    1. Sex
    2. Beer
    3. Steak

  42. brent_r says:

    In my ideal world, when I pick that item up off the rack, some useful information about it would be displayed on the screen.

    Instead we will get some mindless and unhelpful advertisement.

    Related issue which has been pissing me off:
    The screens at McDonalds which were supposed to be displaying my order so that I can make sure it’s correct.
    Instead they are displaying stupid ads, and then when I get to the window I find out they’ve botched my order again.

    Somthing which is all the more frustrating than it used to be, because THERE IS A TOOL TO PREVENT MY ORDER FROM BEING BOTCHED RIGHT THERE BUT YOU’RE USING IT TO SHOW ME ADS.

  43. The_IT_Crone says:

    As long as they don’t record the data, it’s not a privacy issue… but can you trust that they WON’T record data?

    Also I am extremely offended by the “targeted” advertisements that I get already. I don’t think I look forward to more “Oh you’re a 30-something female so we’re going to bombard you with ads of Pampers and Midol.”

  44. alfundo says:


    I was filmed running a red light in Manhattan without my permission. What recourse do I have.

    As you might be able to tell from my avatar they already know what I want when I go into my favorite Dunkin Donuts.

  45. Gopher bond says:

    @digitalgimpus: “I recommended lube to people buying condoms in a store once… they got pissed off.

    I wonder how this will work out for Dunkin’ Donuts.”

    Dunkin’ Donuts makes for a tasty but inferior lube.

  46. Gopher bond says:


    “Hello Shopper,

    I see you are quite overweight and smell of B.O. Can I interest you in some fruits and vegetables and some Right Guard?”

  47. lostsynapse says:

    So what does the computer advertise to a person wearing a Guy Fawkes mask?

  48. seamustry says:

    So would they show Rachael Ray the way I want to see her?

  49. CrazyMann says:

    How about if they just put a note on the bottle, “Buy this product too and get $XX off”? Then lay of the R&D department. The next step will be, Free medical if you have our implant that gives you ads whenever you get near our products. Note: Any advertizing agency that uses this idea, has to pay me royalites.

  50. Imaginary_Friend says:


    1. Pay the ticket and use your friend’s car next time.

    2. [www.i-am-bored.com]

  51. alexburrito says:

    It’s not an invasion of privacy, but an invasion of my personal mental space. I liken the issue to the issue of celebrities and paparrazi. Where do you stand on this? Should they be contained by laws of some sort? Prevented from following & shouting at celebrities? There IS a certain expectation of being left alone when you are in public. Having a computer calling out to you is not very much different.

    Any merchant that does this can count me out as a customer. (I swear I have the strength to give up donuts! Really! Really I do!)

  52. Next time I walk into a Dunkin Donuts, I’m going to wear a skimask and sunglasses. Perhaps a nylon stocking over my head.

    “Are you here to rob us?”

    “No, I just don’t want to be targeted by your ads.”

    Oh wait… That’s right… They don’t HAVE any Dunkin Donuts in Southern California.

  53. “Or would you rather see more relevant ads?”

    I don’t want to see any fucking ads. Enough. I don’t even have a TV yet still get deluged with honking in-my-face crap soon as I enter a subway station or go to the grocery store nevermind all the shit pitched at me online. I can’t even go to a fucking concert without AT&T ads projected on the roof and fucking Comcast and Saab banners on each side of the stage.

    Fuck advertising. It’s an industry with no reason to fucking exist other than to suck money from a client who’s been duped into thinking this shit is still even marginally effective. Fuck off.

  54. Angryrider says:

    Come on! Beam ads into our brains as we sleep!

  55. TechnoDestructo says:


    The vast majority of advertisers are selling none of those things.

    So what do they do? They try to use images of sex, beer, and steak to sell whatever the fuck else.

    You’re only fooling fools, and you’re pissing everyone else off!

  56. bigtimestuff says:

    Refer to George Saunders’ “My Flamboyant Grandson” for the best and most relevant commentary on this topic. I believe it’s in his book In Persuasion Nation.

  57. Tiber says:

    To me, the main issue is the levels they’re willing to go with this stuff. To me, it’s a matter of complexity and obfuscation. By obfuscation, I don’t mean that someone is necessarily trying to hide the data, I mean that the specifics as to how privacy is protected aren’t mentioned, or are buried amongst other technical details. The devil is in the details, as they say. Even if they don’t keep a record of my name or address doesn’t mean they don’t create a profile of me.

    In these specific examples, there are some issues. With the cameras, there’s huge potential for data mining. Even if they don’t keep a picture of me, I won’t be surprised if they store the demographics of the ages and genders buy what at what time.

    With the RFID chips, they might be able to use the RFID chips to see what’s in the cart, and track my movement through the store. If all they want is to know when a product is picked up, couldn’t they just sense when the weight of the shelf changes? Rather than putting chips into every single product sold, wouldn’t this idea be cheaper?

    It’s not so much that they’re trying to find new ways to advertise; I just wish some companies would put the same amount of effort into improving their services.

  58. __Ken__ says:

    Perfect, I’ll just go get donuts with my parents on a Saturday morning with my kids and watch the system crash and burn as it tries to show ads for individuals between the ages of 4 and 60.

  59. Gopher bond says:

    “Didn’t you have ads in the 20th century?”

    “Not in our dreams! Only on TV and radio. And in magazines. And movies. And at ballgames. And on buses. And milk cartons. And t-shirts. And bananas. And written on the sky. But not in dreams! No sirree!”

  60. ViperBorg says:

    Neither. Stop overloading me with your crappy advertisements. Do these people really think this crap works. They must if they keep doing it.

    God help us all.

  61. magic8ball says:

    @samandiriel: “every store would have to have access to your personal private info and to do that you’d have had to authorize it’s release at some point. And I would imagine much like mailing and call lists you didn’t realize you’d be getting on when you filled out your catalog order, you could get your info wiped on request.”

    Your naivete is charming. Truly. By the time you track them down and politely jump through the necessary hoops to get off their list, your information has already been sold, traded, and rented out to innumerable other people who in turn have sold, traded, and rented it out to others …

  62. badgeman46 says:

    I look about 10 to 12 years younger than my true age, which is 31. On top of that, I am only 5’4. It should be funny when the ads are like “Glad you are out of school, dude? Have a coolata!”

  63. dragonfire81 says:

    @lostsynapse: V for Vendetta available on DVD??

    Seriously though, this invasive marketing BS will piss people off more than it will boost sales. When will businesses realize that it’s not necessary to have ads in peoples faces EVERY MINUTE OF EVERY HOUR OF EVERY DAY to run a successful company and *gasp* – make money!

    I hope there is a huge revolt against this kind of stuff, I’ll be happy to join the protest.

  64. Gopher bond says:

    @ViperBorg: ” Do these people really think this crap works. They must if they keep doing it.”

    It DOES work. If you read about how advertising works in the brain, you’d realize that no one is immune. It doesn’t work the way one would think it works or guess at how it works. It insidious.

  65. digitalgimpus says:

    @testsicles: “Dunkin’ Donuts makes for a tasty but inferior lube.”

    True frosting may be inferior, but their product, donuts are softer and quite moist… so despite the small hole in the middle… a high quality lube isn’t necessary. Frosting, jelly or Bavarian cream should be adequate.

    /your local lube salesman

  66. Parting says:

    What happens when there is too much advertisement? No one noticed it any more….

    And wait until hackers will have fun with such ads. I cannot wait =P

  67. god_forbids says:

    My relationship with advertising and other means of purchase suggestion is kinda complicated. On one hand, most of it just gets in my way and pisses me off, on the other hand, sometimes I find out about a product that perfectly fits my needs at that moment or reminds me about something I needed.

    That kind of timely advice can be priceless, but so is my privacy. I am just as likely to get upset over an ad as I am to be delighted – because they are so randomly targeted. What’s a capitalist consumer to do?

  68. animeredith says:

    Meredith no likey. My gender= female. Age= early 20s. This of course means that if this technology were to become widespread, I’d be bombarded with ads tailored to my “interests”, which to marketers seems to mean weight loss, weight loss, shiny hair, weight loss, flawless makeup, and more weight loss. Like I don’t get enough of that offensive bullshit from Facebook (although I’ve now escaped that annoyance by changing my gender to “no gender specified”, something I wouldn’t be able to do without heavy cosmetic surgery with this new technology)

  69. Tzepish says:

    @Canino: LOL!!!

    That was perfect, considering I’m a vegetarian who doesn’t drink and has the lowest sex drive of anyone I know… Seriously, you couldn’t have guessed it any better (worse) :-)

  70. @The_IT_Crone: Well, they say they won’t be recording personal information, but if they are using a face recognition system, how can they not? After all they will no doubt file your face and use it to compare to all shoppers coming into a store. It isn’t long after that that you go to pay for a purchase with your credit card and the facial recognition software can now link you to the credit card information. And then in the future, when you enter the store, they will have a history of things you’ve purchased previously, and won’t it be scary when it starts making recommendations before you even reach for something on the shelf?

  71. Keter says:

    Three comments:

    – Before they start this ad-in-yer-face crap, they should study the automated sales things that holler ads at you while you pump gas. They are beat to hell, and for good reason. The most common comment heard when those things cut on? “STFU! [*WHAM!*]”

    – I won’t shop anywhere I find these things.

    – If I can’t avoid shopping somewhere these things are, I will start a meme to bring back stylish retro hats with veils. (Hatman, were he still with us on the Consumerist banner, would approve.)

  72. Keter says:

    @PunditGuy: The “futurist” was Philip K. Dick.


  73. AgentTuttle says:

    I feel old because I remember when grocery store checkout dividers were just a hunk of rubber and not a freaking commercial. Oh, the good old days.

  74. leftystrat says:

    Next time I go, I’ll take the dog and hold him out front. Let’s see what the software makes of *that*.

    My local DD has something much better: the employees.

    When my wife walks in, they hold up one or two fingers, for how many would she like. They already know what she wants.

    And they always include the cardboard carrier. Why? Because my wife and I drink the coffee and the dog shreds the carrier. It’s hours of fun. And great service.

  75. picardia says:

    I would understand this more if this were not a place that sells doughnuts. What is the computer going to do? “Male, 42-45, African-American — cue commercial for doughnut.” “Female, 26-30, Caucasian — cue commercial for doughnut.” “Female, 50-55, Latina — cue commercial for doughnut.” Yeah, great investment, DD.

  76. darkryd says:

    waste. of. money.

    tailoring ads to me doesn’t mean I want to see them – they’re still ads.

  77. schiff says:

    Heh, this is just the start of the scenario presented in the movie “Minority Report”

  78. BiZarRroBALlmeR says:

    I wasn’t happy when one of these displayed Maxim, Neutrogena hand cream and kleenex when I stepped up to it….hope nobody connected the dots.

  79. kaleberg says:

    Any ad based on guessing my demographic is almost 100% guaranteed to be a waste of time. On the other hand, I wouldn’t mind something that suggested things in the manner of Amazon’s “people who bought this product also bought xxx” or “xxx% of the people who looked at this bought yyy”. That’s one of the principles of selling, and it’s based on my shopping behavior, not some marketing misconception. I might even appreciate being reminded to buy batteries, refills or what have you, and if I can can get a discount, it’s even better.

    (I’ve bought hundreds of things from Amazon, including two lawn mowers, but I’ve never bought anything they’ve recommended for me.)

  80. Meathamper says:

    I hate Fuckin’ Donuts. Just go to Krispy Kreme or Tim Hortons and leave them to rot in hell.

  81. RifRaf says:

    “I brought a donut and the guy gave me a reciept for the donut. I don’t need a receipt for the donut, I give you the money, you give me the donut, end of transaction. We do not need to bring ink and paper into this. I can not imagine the senerio where I would have to prove that I brought a donut. Some skeptical friend. Don’t even act like I didn’t get that donut. I got the documentation right here.” – Mitch Hedberg