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Covid changed biometrics’ retail future. Unusual circumstances led media firm to map how much

Covid changed biometrics’ retail future. Unusual circumstances led media firm to map how much

In an unusual, if not unique, tactic, a global advertising agency repeated a decadal survey about technology trends — not 10 years after the first one but less than a year later. It is all about that year and how views of biometrics and privacy were hardened by it.

Essence, which Ad Age named 2020’s top data and analytics agency, convened an international group of marketing thought leaders during the first two months of 2020 to hear what they thought advertising would look like in 2030.

Then, of course, the pandemic changed much in daily life.

It would not have been unusual for Essence, an independent media shop owned by United Kingdom-based media-and-tech goliath WPP, to move on to other tasks as permitted by Covid. It is not like Essence has time on its hands. Its clients include Google (for which it is agency of record), Games24x7, Coty and Airbnb.

Instead, the same cast was reconvened at the end of that year to learn how opinions and predictions had been changed by a contagion that has gone on to kill more than one million people in the United States alone.

One chart in both surveys asked how likely each panelist thought 15 scenarios would occur. But the second mapped how perspectives changed in a matter of months in 2020. The results are startling when it comes to biometrics and privacy.

In the second survey, respondents were even more sure that use of biometric data would grow strongly over the next decade. The same is true of services and products becoming more personalized, a trend that would accelerate paired with biometrics. And, they said, access to personal data by governments and businesses is going to be more likely in 2030.

The panel was pessimistic about the likelihood of there being any global privacy law, however, and their doubts grew as the year went on.

If the group, in aggregate, is right – and events occurring during the decade do not again change perspectives – it appears that biometric identifiers could be on the way to being the newest commodity with or without people’s consent.

Not everyone agrees. An article in the trade publication Retail Dive that namechecks the Essence survey cites a hokey tie-in between a popular TV show, mobile gesture-recognition AI and a mass-market U.S. pizza chain as evidence that identity authentication itself is almost mass-market.

The article also states that “more immediate” biometric apps deployed in the name of marketing will let consumers protect their data.

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