The EyeSee looks ordinary enough on the outside, with its slender polystyrene frame, blank face and improbable pose. Inside, it’s no dummy. A camera embedded in one eye feeds data into facial-recognition software like that used by police. It logs the age, gender, and race of passers-by. Demand for the device shows how retailers are turning to technology to help personalize their offers as growth slows in the $245 billion luxury goods industry. Bain & Co. predicts the luxury market will expand 5 percent in 2012, less than half last year’s rate.
“It’s a changing landscape but we’re always going to be sensitive about respecting the customer’s boundaries,” said spokesman Colin Johnson. Others say profiling customers raises legal and ethical issues. U.S. and European Union regulations permit the use of cameras for security purposes, though retailers need to put up signs in their stores warning customers they may be filmed. Watching people solely for commercial gain may break the rules and could be viewed as gathering personal data without consent, says Christopher Mesnooh, a partner at law firm Field Fisher Waterhouse in Paris. “If you go on Facebook, before you start the registration process, you can see exactly what information they are going to collect and what they’re going to do with it,” said Mesnooh. “If you’re walking into a store, where’s the choice?” So far Almax hasn’t faced obstacles to selling the dummy, CEO Catanese said. Since the EyeSee doesn’t store any images, retailers can use it as long as they have a closed-circuit television license, he said.