Face forward: Smile, please! Companies are monetising

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Published: November 11, 2019 1:37:58 AM

Machine learning and artificial intelligence have allowed Google and others to move to smarter Bayesian techniques.

In the garb of security, privacy and convenience, companies can collect face data. The phone lock may not be used for this purpose, but image tags certainly are.

How smart can technology be? Apparently, as smart as you make it to be. One of the first algorithms with which Google started marketing products and displaying advertisements was based on search results. You’d search for an air ticket, logged in to your Google account, and Google would throw up ads for air tickets. You want to buy an air conditioner; Google knows. Even if you weren’t logged into your account, Google would recognise that search results emanated from this IP or this address, and would showcase ads in that segment.

The technology got smarter as Google started to use Bayesian techniques. But the Bayersian logic—if not this, then that—used by Google in the initial years was stupid bayesian. This is how Google could filter spam on Gmail. The app recognised certain key terms, thereby applying phishing filters. If a friend were to send you a news clip that says Prince died leaving behind $100 million, Google would look at keywords “Prince”, “wealth” and “the amount” and push the mail to spam, not realising that it was not a phishing mail from some spammer asking you to disclose bank account or personal information, but a fun snippet from a friend.

As technology has progressed, Google and other ad providers are getting smarter. Machine learning and artificial intelligence have allowed Google and others to move to smarter Bayesian techniques. Replies are automatic, and personal assistants can even check your calendar to tell you if you are free or not. A fun snippet never ends in spam.

Technology certainly has contributed to this revolution, easy availability of data has made it easier for companies to better identify people. Times have changed, Windows, now, requires you to log in with your Outlook ID, and setting up a phone without logging into Google is nearly impossible. Apple services, too,are tied to the iCloud account. Xiaomi is no different.

Smart solutions can’t emerge only with recognition of a digital footprint. It is always good to put a face to a name, in this case, a digital id, and big tech has found the perfect way. In the garb of security, privacy and convenience, companies can collect face data. The phone lock may not be used for this purpose, but image tags certainly are.

When Apple introduced fingerprint ID, it was a relief for most smartphone users—tired of remembering and forgetting codes and patterns. Fingerprints did serve the industry well, companies could do little with fingerprint data. Face recognition is, however, a different ball game. Face recognition allows companies to track users easily and across services. Your phone recognises you.

This is also the sole reason, Facebook wants you to tag images of yourself, and friends. Of course, it helps create and store memories, but it also gives Facebook to recognise more people. Facebook can identify you for both digital and analog players.

But, why does big tech want to recognise you. It is the same reason, why Alexa always wishes to listen to you at all times. Knowing consumer behaviour is better than predicting it. And, once you know who the consumer is, and what she wants, marketing and targeted advertisements can be much easier. Big tech can sell this big data to marketing companies, which can further use it for developing personalised products and services.

Sometime in the future, if you happen to walk into a restaurant and the waiter knows what you like; don’t be surprised, its just Google or Facebook or one of the big tech.

The important thing to note, however, is that companies are not playing by old rules to collect data. Google this time is paying consumers—$5 for each face data. Although it is still only a fraction of what Google may earn when they monetise, something is certainly better than nothing. Besides, it’s a good start. Users can demand companies share dividends, from ad revenues, after accounting for services they provide.

I am sure you won’t mind smiling at your phone, once there’s money to be made of it. Also, the waiter knowing what you would like to order, won’t be too bad either. Less time deciding, I guess.

(ishaan.gera@expressindia.com)

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