This snack-food corporation has a creepy plan to watch you in the grocery store

October 14, 2013

(20th Century Fox / Dreamworks Pictures)

It's not quite "Minority Report"-levels of creepiness, but it's getting there.

Mondelez International, whose properties include Chips Ahoy, Nabisco, Ritz and other high-profile snack brands, says it's planning to debut a grocery shelf in 2015 that comes equipped with sensors to determine the age and sex of passing customers.

The shelf, which is hooked up to Microsoft's Kinect controller, will be able to use basic facial features like bone structure to build a profile of a potential snacker, Mondelez chief information officer Mark Dajani told the Wall Street Journal. While pictures of your actual face won't be stored, aggregate demographic data from thousands of transactions will be.

The company expects the shelf to help funnel more of the right products to the right consumers, and even convince undecideds to commit to an impulse buy by offering well-timed in-store commercials or coupons when the embedded weight sensor learns they've picked up an item. The move is almost certain to make it more difficult to resist junk foods.

Of course, what one industry tries, another could copy. Imagine if the produce aisle starts talking about the beta carotene in carrots. Then the problem won't be a matter of healthy foods getting squeezed out of the picture, but of consumers being bombarded with a cacophony of ads, all the time. Maybe we're not so far from "Minority Report's" vision after all.

Brian Fung covers technology for The Washington Post.
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Brian Fung · October 14, 2013