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Still from Landsec presentation video

Big Brother is watching… your every move in Piccadilly Circus

A gigantic 790-square-metre electronic billboard in London’s Piccadilly Circus has been put up to target the make, model and colour of your car, identified by cameras hidden in the screen in a space where 100 million people pass each month.

Published: October 19, 2017, 8:36 am

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    London’s new screen has clear dystopian overtones by providing free Wi-Fi too. The screen can produce 281 trillion different colors from 11 million pixels spaced 8 millimeters apart. It will be the largest display of its type — about the size of four tennis courts — in Europe.

    The hidden cameras are said to be targeting cars, because the car you drive are accurate proxies for income, ethnic background and education level, as well as political choice.

    The technology can be used to program certain ads in response to weather changes, or news and sport reports.

    According to privacy campaigners, the facial detection technology in the new Piccadilly Circus lights is “incredibly intrusive”.

    The screen in central London will be up and running in October, detecting not only faces, but figuring out their age, gender and mood, and the information will be used to tailor brand messages, Sky News reported.

    Ocean Outlook, the company that provides the screen’s technology, says the system can detect people’s age and gender with 90 percent accuracy.

    The first brands to debut will include corporate giants Samsung, Coca-Cola, Hyundai, and L’Oreal.

    The system can identify the makes of vehicles and the featured Wi-Fi will potentially track mobile devices. How the technology is used depends on the approach chosen by the brands willing to pay for screen time.

    The billboard was switched off in January for the technological revamp. Privacy campaigners say the public should be warned that they are going to be monitored soon, when the new billboard is switched on.

    Renate Samson, chief executive of Big Brother Watch, told Sky News: “From a privacy and security point of view, we think (it) is incredibly intrusive.

    “It literally is Minority Report.” The main protagonist in the 2002 science fiction movie is accused of a crime he has not committed and becomes a fugitive, as it explores the negative nature of political and legal systems in a high technology-advanced society.

    Landsec, the company which owns the screen, refused repeated requests from Sky News for comment.

    This giant spying screen will replace six old separate ones that used to represent different brands.

    It is not the first such case of targeted ads. A roadside system in Moscow identifies “valuable” cars. Advertisements targeting the owners of such cars are flashed, and the advertisers pay a premium for the privilege.

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