By: Andre Wong On: September 12, 2014 In: Advertising & Marketing Comments: 0


Before Steven Spielberg started filming Minority Report, he asked numerous scientists what they thought the world would look like in 2054, and put their ideas to film. We’ve still got some time before then, but new technologies in gesture-based control of our screens, iris-based retinal scanning, and targeted advertising are already taking hold in today’s world.

However, we still can’t predict what you’ll do before you’ll do it… or can we?

Big data analyzes the preferences, shopping habits, and demographics of millions of consumers to draw eerily specific conclusions about our habits and lifestyles. Using complicated algorithms based on search history and the aggregate trends of similar users, modern marketers can even predict things like whether you’re pregnant, even before your family knows.

Check out this short scene depicting Minority Report’s vision of a mall in the future:

You’ll notice that every video advertisement is specifically tailored to  mention his name and reference his previous purchases. As he passes through a Gap store, an automated voice recognizes him as a returning customer and asked about the shirts that he’d bought. We’ve all received similar feedback from online retailers in the form of follow-up e-mails asking us to rate and review our purchases, but some brick-and-mortar retailers and marketers are taking it a step further and recognizing customers by their smart phones as they walk past in order to send them discounts and recommendations in real time.

This seems like a step towards the “checkpoint society” of Minority Report, where it’s impossible to go anywhere without having your eyes scanned to verify your identity. India has already scanned the retinas of hundreds of millions of its citizens in an ambitious attempt to establish a national biometric database, which will be used to help distribute government benefits to some of the most densely populated on earth.

Market researchers are also paying attention to eye-tracking technology in order to create more visually appealing websites, movies, and advertisements. Some newer smartphones use basic eye-tracking technologies that allow users to scroll through webpages and control video playback. As this technology becomes increasingly sophisticated and more widely available, it’s possible that advertisers may use this information to determine what captures the attention of consumers in specific demographics, since age, sex, and gender have an effect on how we visually perceive objects.

This technology is so potent that the ACLU has voiced concerns that eye-tracking could divulge information about cognitive disorders, drug and alcohol use, intelligence, and even sexuality simply by passively scanning the pupils of a crowd, especially as this technology becomes adapted in video surveillance and online.

Tracking technology is a potential gold mine to advertisers, but they must maintain the good faith of consumers in the face of increasingly shorter attention spans and privacy concerns. In-store and targeted ads must be kept relevant, transparent, and relatively unobtrusive, or else customers are more likely to disable the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth functions that current trackers rely on.