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Bionic mannequins spy on you as you shop

Posting in Design

It may not only be obvious ceiling cameras that will be following your movements in retail stores. Mannequins may also be keeping their eye on you.

Shoplifting is a major issue worldwide. In the U.K., perfume is the top contender, but fashion and other retail outlets also have their fair share of sticky-fingered customers. In order to combat this -- and profile their customers -- some fashion outlets are employing bionic mannequins, designed by Italian firm Almax Spa, that include high-tech cameras hidden within the model's eyes.

Bloomberg reports that the EyeSee mannequins are being used to track and collect customer data, and currently "a few dozen" have been employed in stores in Europe and the United States. Each model costs $5,130 and looks stereotypical from the outside, complete with a polystyrene frame and a blank face.

Inside, however, a camera embedded in one eye sends data to facial-recognition software which is used by the police to track criminals. Instead, this software logs the age, race and gender of shoppers.

Almax says that as the mannequins stand at customer level, it can give businesses a better idea of customer trends and how to feature their products accordingly. As an example, one outlet changed their window displays after data suggested men who shopped in the early days of a sale spent more than women.

This kind of technology could help stores profile their customers and produce a better, more tailored product range, but it is not without opposition. Christopher Mesnooh, a partner at Parisian law firm Field Fisher Waterhouse, believes that spying on consumers purely for commercial rather than security gains may break U.S. and E.U. privacy regulations.

"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," Mesnooh told the publication. "If you’re walking into a store, where’s the choice?"

Almax isn't stopping there. The company says it is testing technology which will allow the mannequins to eavesdrop on customer conversations, in order to collect reviews over the model's clothing.

Image credit: Almax

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— By on November 22, 2012, 2:02 AM PST

Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure