Minority Report', a dystopian short story by Philip K. Dick,
was written as a stark warning of what may happen in the future
should society be engulfed by invasive technology and begin
to regard privacy and civil liberties as antiquated.
Of course the artistic intention is always going to go straight
over the heads of some people, including, it seems, today's
real life technological executives who are developing the exact
same kind of devices the iconic author imagined would plague
shopping malls of the future.
In a memorable scene from the story and the 2002 movie, starring
Tom Cruise, the lead character walks through such a place only
to be bombarded with personalised adverts from digital billboards
telling him he could use a Guinness or a holiday to forget his
Watch the scene:
In another scene the character enters a GAP store and is hit
with special offers based on stored information detailing his
'How awful', you and I would automatically think. 'How wonderful',
researchers have concluded at IBM, the company that, incidentally,
previously facilitated Hitler's death-camp punchcard tabulation
"IBM claims that its technology will help prevent consumers
from being subjected to a barrage of irritating advertising
because they will only be shown adverts for products that are
relevant to them." reports the London
"In the film, the billboards rely on scanning the person's
eyeball," Brian Innes, a research scientist at IBM's innovation
laboratories said. "...but we are using RFID technology
that people are carrying around with them, so they can have
a tailor made message."
RFID chips are now commonly embedded in mobile phones, credit
cards, shopping loyalty cards and even clothes.
The chips can be coded with personal information that readers
can scan. The type of advertising will be determined on the
basis of what your chip says your buying habits are, thus allowing
advertising boards to personally and intimately target any passer
A spokesman for the Advertising Association, the industry body
that represents advertisers, said: "Outdoor RFID advertising
is an exciting prospect for the industry. Ads can be made more
relevant to the consumer and it will boost interest in the medium".
We have previously
covered the fact that private industry and eventually
government are set to implement plans to use microphones and
cameras in the computers and TiVo style boxes of hundreds of
millions of Americans to monitor their lifestyle choices and
build psychological profiles, which will be used for invasive
advertising and data mining.
In 2006, Google announced that they would use in-built microphones
to listen in on user’s background noise, be it television,
music or radio – and then direct advertising at them based
on their preferences.
“The idea is to use the existing PC microphone to listen
to whatever is heard in the background, be it music, your phone
going off or the TV turned down. The PC then identifies it,
using fingerprinting, and then shows you relevant content, whether
that’s adverts or search results, or a chat room on the
In 2008 Comcast
Vice-President Gerard Kunkel admitted to a journalist
that the use of inbuilt monitoring devices in cable boxes would
represent a "holy grail," and rival companies like
TiVo and Microsoft have already filed patents for similar technology.
Hundreds of millions will all be potential targets for secret
surveillance and the subsequent sell-off of all their information
to unscrupulous data mining corporations and government agencies.
The report cites the inevitability that the use and abuse of
this technology will eventually be taken over by the state.
“Pretty soon the security industry is going to find a
way to hijack the Google feed and use it for full on espionage,”
states the article. Thus the state gains a trendy method of
constant, cradle-to-grave surveillance.
If you think telesales calls and pop-ups ads are annoying,
wait until this new wave of invasive advertising really takes
off. It threatens to not only saturate the senses with 24/7
vapid consumerism, but will also signal the death knell for
the assumption that privacy is a human right not to be infringed
upon by corporations or the state.
Unless the stark warnings of Philip K. Dick and other sociological
analysts like him are taken seriously, we will find ourselves
living out the realities that previously only emerged from the
darkest recesses of their minds.