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News

Does behavioural analysis infringe civil liberties?

OmniPerception : 12 October, 2009  (Technical Article)
In response to an article on the negative aspects of behavioural analysis, OmniPerception's CEO explains the benefits of the technology if used within a legal framework to anonymise results
Claims that behavioural analysis technology encroaches on civil liberties and could be a means of tracking individuals on a mass level throughout their lives has been dismissed by Stewart Hefferman, the CEO of UK biometrics company OmniPerception.

Reacting to the article 'Big Brother is watching you shop' by Michael Fitzpatrick posted on BBC news online, Mr Hefferman challenged his notion that the technology has negative connotations and was a step too far in terms of infringement of civil liberties.

"The boundary between personalised data and behavioural information is blurred in the article and this tends to sensationalise the content in an unhelpful way, said Mr Hefferman.

"Capturing "personalised data" will have data protection issues and is a step too far, so in that respect I agree with the author. The technology will be able to do as he says, but that is quite a different issue from actually having the legal freedom to do so," he continued.

However, Mr Hefferman believes that behavioural analysis, if anonymised is potentially helpful.

"This has been going on for years - how many large retail shops measure and track footfall? It's behavioural analysis but it is also depersonalised, so not a threat to personal liberties. In fact in some instances (fire, evacuation, etc.) actually tracking behaviour might save lives! What a negative picture he paints!
In his article, Fitzpatrick claims that advertisers are now starting to use cameras to watch us watching the ads".

Fitzpatrick uses the example of Germany where developers have placed video cameras into street advertisements attempting to discern people's emotional reactions to the ads.

In response, Mr Hefferman points out that personalised advertising is already a reality and not somewhere in the future.

"Has he ever used Amazon or the plethora of other on-line stores that magically seem to know what I want to buy? Is it personalised, yes. Is it a misuse of my personal data - no because they don't have it. They just know that customer ID "XYZ" likes classical or jazz CDs etc...."

"One area where I do agree is linking the behavioural patterns with my actual data should not take place without my explicit agreement - and this can certainly be done via some legal framework."
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