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Walgreens' new smart fridges are watching you, and they are learning


WASHINGTON (CIRCA) — In the age of "smart" technology, even the humble refrigerator is getting more intelligent.

Pharmacy chain Walgreens is going to pilot a new line of "smart coolers" developed by Cooler Screens that are equipped with cameras that will transform how you choose your next beverage into raw data that marketers can use to sell you more products. The new integrated cameras will scan a shopper's face and collect information on data points like age and gender. The fridges made their first debut in Chicago on Jan. 14, with more to come in New York and San Francisco.

Which juice are you?

If you've seen the "Blade Runner" movies, you might have an idea of what is going on. Characters in the futuristic sci-fi series are routinely scanned by advertisers, which make inferences based on the information they collect. Unlike that technology, though, the smart fridges won't be incorporating facial recognition. Shoppers won't be individually identified, according to The Atlantic. Instead, Cooler Screens' algorithm makes inferences based on things like the size of your jaw, your eyes and the distance between your features. This is an important distinction, considering some states have laws regulating how and when biometrics can be recorded by these kinds of technologies.

The idea is to collect as much information about shoppers' habits as possible so that marketers can incorporate it in how they sell products in the future. Small, seemingly insignificant things like where a product is placed, or when it is put on the shelves, can make a difference based on who you are, and those nuances add up on the bottom line.

Which beer are you?

It's not just Walgreens that is cashing in on the smart technology marketing. Nestle SA, MillerCoors LLC and Conagra are just three of the approximately 15 advertisers that have signed up for the system, according to The Wall Street Journal. Cooler Screens also has backing from Microsoft, which wants to produce software for the technology.

So the next time you grab your favorite drink from a Walgreens fridge, know this: It's learning.


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