It used to be the stuff of movies. The good guys (or the bad guys, considering who might have a need for the technology) would watch on monitors from a cramped office while computers scanned images of every passenger in the airport or shopper in the mall. Suddenly, with a series of lines on the screen and beeps of a computer, the agents could pinpoint one single person in a sea of countless thousands, all thanks to facial recognition software.

But that technology may not be limited to Hollywood blockbusters any more. A company in Hong Kong has not only developed what it feels is reliable software, it’s also marketing it to a very unlikely customer: shopping centers.

Facial recognition software is no longer just the realm of spy games and security. Rather than simply use the technology in retail stores to help thwart shoplifting or other crimes, NEC is marketing this software as a way to help foster sales and business by recognizing individual customers, connecting that recognition to their previous purchases, and then making resulting sales suggestions based on stored data about the customers. A shop worker no longer need remember a regular in the store, since even entering the store on one prior occasion can give the employees the information they need to push certain products on the customer.

An even more involved application of this technology is using facial recognition to make assumptions about the person’s mood, and use that knowledge to make product suggestions and push sales. Looking sad? You might be willing to spend a little more on some premium chocolates. Look like you just got good news? Maybe you’d like to celebrate with an expensive bottle of alcohol, or treat yourself to a new wardrobe to go with that promotion you just learned about.

While most consumers might have no problem with a computerized and personalized greeting when they walk into a store—“Hi Michelle! Welcome back to Stop-n-Shop!”—using this level of privacy to subversively lure customers into spending more money does leave a lot of people with a bad feeling. Even more worrisome is the information that would-be criminals can receive by hacking into a company’s servers. Not only does the thief have an accurate scan of what the customer looks like, he can access that customer’s spending habits and other personal data that the company chooses to store.

So what can you do to protect yourself? As new technology develops, savvy criminals follow right behind with new ways to commit crimes. Unfortunately, it can often take a little longer for legislation to prevent further problems. Short of wearing a disguise every time you shop in public, it seems as though your face may be “out there” for big data collection. Just remember to protect your identity as much as you can by keeping financial information safe, shredding documents that contain any identifying information, and safeguarding your passwords at all times.

If you found this information helpful, you may want to consider taking part in the Identity Theft Resource Center’s Anyone3 fundraising campaign.  For more information or to donate please visit