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In Japan, a Billboard That Watches You 133

Posted by kdawson
from the don't-look-now dept.
An anonymous reader writes "At a Tokyo railway station above a flat-panel display hawking DVDs and books sits a small camera hooked up to some image processing software. When trials begin in January the camera will scan travelers to see how many of them are taking note of the panel, in part of a technology test being run by NTT Communications. It doesn't seek to identify individuals, but it will attempt to figure out how many of the people standing in front of an advertisement are actually looking at it. A second camera, which wasn't fitted at the station but will be when tests begin next month, will take care of estimating how many people are in front of the ad, whether they are looking at it or not."
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In Japan, a Billboard That Watches You

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  • by exley (221867) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 @03:35AM (#26129945) Homepage

    Wait, what?

  • Grammar is overrated.
  • by Hal_Porter (817932) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 @03:45AM (#26130007)

    Hence the expression "In Soviet Korea, billboard watches YOU!"

    Thanks, I'll be here all week. Try the dog.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 16, 2008 @03:45AM (#26130009)

    I have, many times, and I can honestly say that the only thing I'm looking at are the women. Ninjas sitting on the camera mounting, firing those little star things and nunchuks at me? I wouldn't even notice.

    • by Nursie (632944) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 @07:22AM (#26130963)

      Flippant though you may be, I can only see two outcomes for this -

      1. Advertisers realise exactly how much they have trained people to ignore everything around them, no matter how bright or annoying.

      2. Advertisements quickly become even more completely based around naked female flesh, because that's the only way they get any attention at all.

      • by gfxguy (98788) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 @08:45AM (#26131317)

        Excellent points!

        I've been saying this for a long time... we've become so inundated with ads that we just completely ignore them now.

        Even on television... many (if not most) people recorded their shows on VCR simply to avoid the commercials... same reason I use Tivo now. Sure, as our busy schedules got even busier, time shifting became more desirable; but even if a show is on while I'm watching TV, I will often pause or start recording it to come back later just to avoid watching the commercials.

        I suppose it's like any other good or service... the industry has devalued their product (ads) by over saturating the market.

        • by umghhh (965931)

          I dislike TV but I watch occasionally especially when in-laws are at our place. What I observed is that most commercials are crap. Some of them however are very well made. Comparing this to the shows and movies that they interrupt I see a major difference in quality for adverts advantage.
          It seems that not only the creative people feel better making the advertisements but the way accountants devastate their works is different too - an add thanks to its short form is either completely destroyed or it works.

        • by Zebano (626335)
          What is this VCR you speak of? I use DVR nowadays. I tell it that I like Fringe, Sanctuary and Heroes and it records every instance of those shows it can. I don't have to swap out tapes or manually program the VCR in between each show. If you want to be a real geek, you can do this with your computer rather than purchasing something that JFW.
          • by gfxguy (98788)

            ...many (if not most) people recorded [past tense] their shows on VCR simply to avoid the commercials... same reason I use Tivo now [current tense].
             

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by The13thSin (1092867)
        "...Advertisements quickly become even more completely based around naked female flesh..." And how is that a bad thing again?
        • by besalope (1186101)

          "...Advertisements quickly become even more completely based around naked female flesh..." And how is that a bad thing again?

          They might not be model material. *shudder*

      • by jrumney (197329)
        When I was outside Omiya station recently, they seemed to be showing 10 second snippets of live baseball between the ads to entice people to watch.
        • by Zebano (626335)
          I hate to admit it, but that is brilliant.
          • by Ana10g (966013)
            So, wait... let me get this straight. We're moving from show segments with commercials between them to commercials with show segments between them? Something feels wrong here.
      • by styryx (952942)
        The late prophet Bill Hicks was right again:

        Here is the ultimate television commercial, and we might see it one day yet: Here's the woman's face, beautiful. Camera pulls back, naked breast. Camera pulls back, she's totally naked. Legs apart. Two fingers right 'here'. And it just says: Drink Coke.

  • Slippery slope (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Iamthecheese (1264298) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 @03:46AM (#26130013)
    Some people will say "slippery slope", and others will declare that the phrase is a fallacy. As a shortcut description of the probably course of events, "slippery slope" is just fine. In this case:

    1: Billboards watch people.
    2: These billboards are more popular and are put into more common use.
    3: Information from a billboard cam is subpoenaed.
    4: Some bright young chap in politics notices that (a) There are cameras everywhere that could be used to observe the populace, (b) The information from these cameras isn't in use, and (c) He is up for re-election soon and needs some dirt on his opponent.
    5: This politician will make a bill to monitor the billboards. Anyone in opposition will be "soft on crime", "unwilling to monitor dangerous criminals", and "must be hiding something."
    6: Sooner or later, Minority Report.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by timmarhy (659436)
      the problem with slippery slope is it's easy to sound right when you just make shit up. that's all slippery slope arguments are, just a made up chain of events without justification or evidence. hence it's got no credibility.
      • Re:Slippery slope (Score:4, Insightful)

        by SharpFang (651121) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 @07:51AM (#26131067) Homepage Journal

        These who don't know History are sentenced to repeating it.

        The credibility is in past scenarios. Copyright. PATRIOT. Communist revolution.

        Slippery Slope scenarios tend to be right.

        • Re:Slippery slope (Score:5, Insightful)

          by peragrin (659227) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 @07:57AM (#26131101)

          It isn't that slippery slopes tend to be right it is that you have to plan on the people abusing your system.

          Building a device and put a stick of dynamite into it. see what happens, build a web site, even a personal one, and watch how often it gets attacked. If your going to plan for the future you need to think ahead. People abuse the things they are given and don't have responsibility of. So if you give some one unlimited powers with no oversight it will be abused no matter the intentions.

        • They hooked up cameras to force copyright issues?
          They used video footage to start the communist revolution?
          And while PATRIOT does show that nationalism can be used to put through bills to monitor people, I don't see it as directly relevant to the putting up of a private cameras, I do however think you just prooved GPs point

          just a made up chain of events without justification or evidence. hence it's got no credibility.

          • by SharpFang (651121)

            They introduced copyright to encourage creativity; it got twisted into a weapon protecting the corporations' profits, destroying creativity.
            They started the communist revolution to improve the living of common people. The slope changed them into prisoners.
            They tried to preserve safety of the citizens, then killed their freedoms with PATRIOT.

            Now they introduce cameras to count people looking at billboards and will abuse them for Big Brother style surveilance.

            Orwell's "Animal Farm" was just a made up chain of

    • I think you may be giving too much credit too politicians. The most likely scenario is one in which they shoot themselves in the foot by unknowingly being caught doing something illegal by one of these things, and then have to face the press and their own LEA. The information from these cameras would also be a double-edged sword; just as they could use the information to target individuals they themselves can wind up on the target list.

      I don't really understand how these are a big issue though, as there
      • "I don't understand how these are a big issue though, as there are plenty of street cameras, traffic cameras, and store cameras in most major cities."

        .

        So once the first person put up the first camera, he thus granted license for 24x7 surveillance of the entire populace? Why should anyone have any problem with it, others are doing it!

        I guess I'll go out and murder my grandmother. Hey, I don't understand why this is a big issue as there are plenty of other murders in most major cities.

        If someone is

        • I also enjoyed the unjustified assumption in the /. summary, "It doesn't seek to identify individuals". This assessment is utterly unverifiable no matter who said it. It could be an outright lie or it could be the truth and the recording is passed to someone for whom that is the case. For all we know, the feed is being recorded and will be fed to some future face identification software which will seek to identify individuals. Or the feed is improperly secured and (contrary to the wishes of the billboar

    • by Yvanhoe (564877)
      2b. It is legal to put cameras everywhere
      3b. Journalists do that a lot
      4b. Journalists realize that they have the right to take pictures in public places and that a lot of politicians spend time in public places in various companies
      5b. Any politician that is out of the cameras eyes must be hiding something or having a secret meeting, or is afraid of being under public scrutiny
      6b. Public cameras get banned or at least finally open a true debate on these things.

      I have no problem about putting cameras in
      • - Roads, transit systems allow anonymous movements or some lanes are not considered "public" (hence it is illegal to watch the ID of the cars going there)

        Why just roads? Can't I walk down the street without risk of being monitored and tracked? Actually, I personally don't care - but someone might, and that brings up the real issue at hand.

        As technology develops, the ability to use that technology to the detriment of the individual increases. We need laws that protect us against unfair government use - that keep the government subjugated to the people, not the people subjugated to the government.

        In this case, I think that a subpeona ought to be required to ge

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Every time I've seen your sig "I am the cheese", I almost want to disregard everything else you've said. I understand that child porn is a legislation gateway for something-nefarious(tm), BUT currently viewing child porn IS NOT illegal. In fact, if you ever serve on the jury for a case about child porn PRODUCER, you may have to view some as evidence. What is illegal is 1) paying for it 2) storing or distributing it 3) creating it. In each of these cases, your helping create supply and/or demand, which d

      • Every time I've seen your sig "I am the cheese", I almost want to disregard everything else you've said.

        That says something about you...

        I understand that child porn is a legislation gateway for something-nefarious(tm), BUT currently viewing child porn IS NOT illegal. In fact, if you ever serve on the jury for a case about child porn PRODUCER, you may have to view some as evidence. What is illegal is 1) paying for it 2) storing or distributing it 3) creating it.

        What I mean to say, but don't because it
        • by digitig (1056110)
          Ok, I got some undeserved karma recently (by being modded insightful for a joke) so I can afford to burn some by being off-topic.

          What I mean to say, but don't because it makes an awkward sentence is: Paying for, storing, distributing, and filming child porn: Thought crime.

          Except that none of those are thoughts, they're physical actions.

          In each of these cases, your helping create supply and/or demand I dispute this. Only paying for it creates demand.

          Actively seeking it out creates demand, too, because that provides a possible advertising revenue stream. I don't think that's illegal yet, though -- as long as you fail.

          which does in fact hurt children. I dispute that too. The only action of those specified that hurts a child is actual abuse, and only that and directly commissioning such should be a crime.

          There is the little matter of effectiveness. Making only the abuse and direct commissioning the offences just means that the abuse will take place i

          • First, a note to the mods who modded me funny: The definition of pedophilia is a feeling of sexual attraction to children. (as opposed to teenagers or adults) Most pedophiles would not choose to feel this attraction given a choice. If there were a pill that cured it, it would be flying off the shelves.

            You are confusing the attraction/desire with the activity that is desired. Prejudice against pedophiles: a real bigotry. Prejudice against criminals (of whatever type): the phrase doesn't make sense because
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by TeXMaster (593524)

      Some people will say "slippery slope", and others will declare that the phrase is a fallacy. As a shortcut description of the probably course of events, "slippery slope" is just fine. In this case: 1: Billboards watch people. 2: These billboards are more popular and are put into more common use. 3: Information from a billboard cam is subpoenaed. 4: Some bright young chap in politics notices that (a) There are cameras everywhere that could be used to observe the populace, (b) The information from these cameras isn't in use, and (c) He is up for re-election soon and needs some dirt on his opponent. 5: This politician will make a bill to monitor the billboards. Anyone in opposition will be "soft on crime", "unwilling to monitor dangerous criminals", and "must be hiding something." 6: Sooner or later, Minority Report.

      You're wrong on #6: it's 1984. Minority Report used people with ESP powers, 1984 used 'TV screens' to monitor the populace.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by RCourtney (973307)
        Unfortunately, in this regard you are wrong too. Minority report used the telepathic trio to see/prevent murders. It used retinal scanners to actually track the day-to-day activities of the citizens' movements/actions. Thus the reasons he had his eyes replaced.
    • by houghi (78078)

      1) People call things slippery slope
      2) They must be hiding something
      3) Minority report

      • by phillous (1160303)

        1) People call things slippery slope
        2) They must be hiding something
        3) ... ?
        4) Minority report
        5) PROFIT!!

        Fixed that for ya

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      "It doesn't seek to identify individuals ..."

      Yet.

      • by phillous (1160303)
        ok, an actual /. article about technology and what do the /. masses scream about?

        oh noes! its teh guvorment spyin on us!!!

        Is there a sale on tinfoil that I'm unaware of?
    • by Candid88 (1292486)

      Of course!

      Such billboards are in that movie Minority Report!

      So if the billboards from that movie come true, everything else from it must also come true! ...regardless of how many laws of physics the movie broke.

      Please keep in mind that movies aren't prophecies spat out by burning bushes, they are just entertaining works of fiction.

    • 3: Information from a billboard cam is subpoenaed. ... 5: a bill to monitor the billboards. Anyone in opposition will be "soft on crime", "unwilling to monitor dangerous criminals", and "must be hiding something." 6: Sooner or later, Minority Report.

      That's one of many slippery slopes (though, humorously, my slope also ends in Minority Report...)

      Another that comes to mind is statistics, which have always been very integral to advertising, but Google is pushing this angle HARD. Basically, the more statistical data you have, the better you can target ads and thus the better you are at pushing products. This means that it is advantageous to the advertiser to discriminate as much as possible.

      Example: figure out what brand clothes and items passers-by

  • Seriously. If kdawson wanted to do the Soviet Russia thing, it should have gone "In Japan, billboard watches YOU!" Or it could have been straight up informative like "Billboards monitors eyeball hits" or something. WTF?
  • Slow news day (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Lucas.Langa (922843) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 @03:59AM (#26130083) Homepage
    The same technology is used even in Poland, which is still seen by the western world as a "developing country". By the way, see this [trumedia.co.il].
    • Same in Thailand. In a shopping mall called "Siam Paragon", lots of these cams are installed right above the plasma screens. Some of which you can even interact with what's being on the screen.
    • by Candid88 (1292486)

      Indeed, video posters using infa-red to detect when someone's nearby have been around for ages.

      The difference here is simply that someone used the "camera" word when describing this system and that's got the tinfoil-hat crowd jumping up and down.

  • NO, NO, NO, NO, NO!!
    How dare you Japan! How very DARE you take over the classic 'soviet russia' joke! That is just NOT funny!

    I am very, VERY disappointed in you Japan. And I hope you are ashamed of yourself!
  • by adnonsense (826530) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 @04:12AM (#26130143) Homepage Journal

    I RTFA (sorry!) and it doesn't say. As I live there I'd be interested in taking a look.

    (I know I won't be tracked or even just mess up their trial statistics, what with me being a foreigner and all that: "We gathered together many faces and came up with an average Japanese face, and by using pattern matching the system recognizes faces from the image.")

    • by Ceryx (1416491)
      I know that the giant Ad TV at the Takadanobaba Waseda exit has a camera, as it occasionally shows the rotary area itself on the screen. Seems like a good enough place to do something of the like seeing as there are always tons of people there. However, I don't recall the ads being of the media nature.
    • by kumanopuusan (698669) <goughnourc@NoSpAm.gmail.com> on Tuesday December 16, 2008 @05:06AM (#26130383)

      I was wondering, too, so I looked up the original report [ntt.co.jp] on NTT's website [ntt.co.jp].

      Three cameras are installed on the Keihin Express line at Shinagawa, Yokohama and Haneda Airport stations. There's also one in the Marunouchi Building by Tokyo station and one at their lab in Yokosuka. They'll be testing until the end of March. It seems like the image processing is only being performed at Marunouchi building and Haneda.

      I go through Tokyo station on the way home, so I'll post later if I can find the thing.

    • You should get a bunch of national friends together, then, and work to mess it up. Have them walk by constantly, staring at the board. Have them skew the numbers so harshly in the positive direction that the ad companies go bankrupt whilst clamoring to put up ads in the "valuable space".

      Crap like this just reminds me of that fallacy-based advert: "You just proved bench advertisement works". No, you just proved that anyone who reads a bench ad reads a bench ad. I've never bought bench advertisements, so

  • by theredshoes (1308621) <theredshoes33@nOspAm.gmail.com> on Tuesday December 16, 2008 @04:15AM (#26130159)
    Let me know when the billboard ads for the personal/cleaning/pleasure toy robots are put up in the mall and they jump out at you while you are walking, yelling, "Buy me!" then that will be pretty damn impressive.

    Seriously though, a bit sneaky, but fascinating that they want a headcount of who walks by these marketing ads. I wonder if they realize how numb the public is to this by now? I don't know if there have been studies, but it seems to me, the older you get, the less you want, I could be wrong, I am just speaking from personal experience.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by TapeCutter (624760)
      People are numb but they still take it, I only turn my head if it grabs my attention and that's what they want to know - does the poster grab people's attention. Other than one particulary large one near me that advertises a brothel, the last time I recall a billboard grabing my attention was when I first saw the mouse with an ear on it's back.

      "but it seems to me, the older you get, the less you want, I could be wrong, I am just speaking from personal experience."

      OT - Ditto. OTOH we old farts have had
      • by Zebano (626335)
        2 things

        Re: wanting Stuff
        1. I don't want less, but I want fewer material goods. Services such as chess/tennis tournaments or related services I still pay for and the material goods are made up for by Grandma and Mom buying my kids tons of toys (more than we can clean up at night).

        Re: billboards
        2. There is a billboard on I380 that alternates advertising with a daily joke. I pay attention to that one every time I drive past. I think mixing your ad in with desired content is a great way to get people to
      • People are numb but they still take it, I only turn my head if it grabs my attention and that's what they want to know - does the poster grab people's attention.

        The only way an electronic billboard would get my attention is if the thing reached out and grabbed me by the nuts (of course, at that point I'd snap the damn robotic arm off at the root and disassemble the machine with it.) The rest of me is completely numb to advertising: if anything I actively work to avoid awareness of it. In fact, that's the reason I don't want targeted advertising (yeah, I mean you Google) because ads are a lot easier to completely ignore if they're totally irrelevant.

        • That was supposed to say "still take it in subconsiously", ie: you can go out of your way to ignore them but not to the point where you fool yourself into thinking they don't exist.

          "...that's the reason I don't want targeted advertising (yeah, I mean you Google) because ads are a lot easier to completely ignore if they're totally irrelevant."

          Exactly, after a decade or so I have trained my brain to ignore all the flashing colours and movement, but when they name my suburb my stupid brain picks it up an
    • The interesting part is not the headcount, but the count of people looking at the sign. Apparently this company is doing it via facial recognition to see if a face is directed towards the camera. But I saw another demonstration from a company that detects "ad views" via the red-eye effect. By emitting a low intensity infra-red(?) light and catching reflections from people's retinas they can deduce they are looking towards the camera/billboard.
  • As seen in... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by riceboy50 (631755) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 @04:15AM (#26130161)
    Minority Report [imdb.com]. Serves the double purpose of marketing to individual preferences, and also keeping track of the populace.
  • telescreen [wikipedia.org], to me....
    • by Yogiz (1123127)

      Sounds like a telescreen [wikipedia.org], to me....

      Exactly what came to mind to me as well.

      How far is the technology anyway? Can we expect cheap electronic surveillance in every home in countries such as China in what, 5 years? 10? How long until it moves on to U.K. and USA? To rest of the world?

      Keeping an eye on the population gives the government quite a lot of power. And there are always innocuous-appearing reasons for doing things like that.

      Nah, I'm just being paranoid. It's just an experiment to see how big per cent of people check ads...

      ...OR IS IT?

  • Google (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    After checking whoever looks at ad, they compare the picture to facebook, find the victim, check google records for more information and then target the ads directly at the user.

  • by Logic and Reason (952833) on Tuesday December 16, 2008 @04:41AM (#26130291) Homepage
    Whenever there's only one person looking at the billboard, have its contents change subtly. For example, a character on the billboard could briefly glance at the viewer. Do it, Japan!
  • by Anonymous Coward

    This is old news in the DOOH sector (digital out of home). Audience measurement is key in establishing value for potential clients. Simply knowing the footfall for a venue is useless if no one is actually looking at the screens.

    As someone above mentioned, TruMedia are one of the forefathers of the technology, but there are many out there. They all maintain that no video is stored. It simply analysis age (split into 3 groups) and gender. Some broadcast software (ie Scala) can take prompts from the camera pac

  • I thought the point of ads was that you didn't look at them. Subliminal messages come across best when you don't notice them...
  • Attach there some evolution algorithm which will slowly improve 'peoples attention time' by analyzing their behavior and after few days, you have ad everybody must watch. Imagine that you walk across the street an perfect ad get your attention and you can avoid it. That's scary.

  • Sure that was Japan and not Soviet Russia?

  • In a British station you would need a way of knowing whether the passengers were looking at the advert, reading the grafitti, or looking through the hundreds of "high class escort agency" adds that had been stuck on.
  • by thegnu (557446) <thegnu@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday December 16, 2008 @08:37AM (#26131269) Journal

    *puts sock on head*

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by skeeto (1138903)
      Actually, put a mask on the back of your head so the billboard collects false viewing data.
  • This isn't really a valid test at all, I look at every ad I see, it doesn't mean I'm paying attention to it.
  • From the article at least, it doesn't look like they're doing anything particularly special, here. Segmenting people from the background and running something like eigenface classification or template matching on the foreground... anyone who's halfway competent with some of the major computer vision libraries out there could probably write something like this without really straining. Especially if it's in a partially-controlled environment with good lighting.
  • i'd ban Billboards. wastes of space. used for covering unmaintained eye sore government property, or just an eye sore in themselves.

    i don't think i can remember any advertising campaign, or anything good that was on a bill board.

    boo hiss etc.

  • Audience measurement has been going on for a while in the Digital Out of Home (DOOH) sector. Many well-established companies work on this sector: TruMedia, Quividi, Wututu are familiar names in the industry.

    For more information, the DailyDOOH blog:

    http://www.dailydooh.com/archives/5265 [dailydooh.com]

    http://www.dailydooh.com/archives/2043 [dailydooh.com]

  • by PeeShootr (949875)
    ...welcome our billboardic overlords
  • by Tablizer (95088)

    the shark *still* looks fake.

  • It won't be long before the billboards switch as we pass them and scream our names to get our attention.

  • "The stock of Ichi Ban Tuna Ice Cream hit a new high following analysis of data from their eye-tracking billboards, showing dozens of people were looking at them for extended periods. Substantial investment was made in creating more manufacturing and distribution facilities. However, the stock then plummeted when it was found that the data represented dozens of Hello Kitty dolls being propped up in front of many of the billboards. The earlier investment was written off as a corporate loss. The corporate off

  • For $15, you can buy a cardboard cutout with a face.... and fasten it on the opposite wall.
    For 10 cents a copy, you could copy a lot of faces.

    Or you could put a face on the back of your head (2 eye spots perhaps).

    And then there is always simple vandalism of the cameras (like paint-balling traffic cameras, fast easy, good range, cheap)

Cobol programmers are down in the dumps.

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