This London advertisement knows your gender
February 22nd, 2012
11:41 AM ET

This London advertisement knows your gender

By John D. Sutter, CNN

(CNN) - Here's a creepy-cool development in the marketing world:

A billboard that went up on Wednesday in London uses facial-recognition technology to know - 90% of the time - whether you're a man or woman. And it gives you a different advertisement depending on your gender.

Women who walk up to the billboard, which is located at a London bus stop and will be viewable for two weeks, are greeted with a 40-second film explaining the plight of women and girls in poor countries around the world, who often are denied eduction and opportunities that are afforded to men.

Men, however, get a cut-down version of the content. They can't see the film, but they do get to see shocking statistics about the situation, like the fact that 75 million girls are denied education.

Plan, the children's advocacy group behind the advertisement, says the goal is to highlight the opportunities that are afforded to men that women miss out on. This is the first time a gender-detecting ad has been tried in the UK, says Naomi Williams, Plan's campaign manager.

Similar efforts have been tried before in Asia. In 2010, CNET reported on an ad in Japan that tried to read your age.

Plan's bus-stop ad - a throwback to "Minority Report," writes Megan Garber writes at The Atlantic - uses HD cameras to take photos of people who stand in front of the advertisement and, importantly, who chose to have their gender detected. A computer program then "measures the distance between your features, such as the length of your nose or the length of your jawline," Williams says, and uses that data to determine, with 90% accuracy, whether you're a man or a woman. The camera only scans the faces of people who specifically opt in to view the ad, she says, and the billboard does not store any of the images it takes. "We do not gather any data and we do not store any data," she says.

"In this instance, we are using this technology for good," she says. "We’re using it to get across a very strong and important message about discrimination. We’re looking for new and innovative ways to cut through the market and get to the consumer and their target market."

What do you think? Is this cool and useful? Or just plain-old creepy?

Post by:
Filed under: Innovation • Social change • Tech
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  44. Quinn Mallory

    Not too impressed. I'd rather see both adverts than have some "toaster" try to guess my gender. What happens when "Pat" from SNL walks up to it? Does it short circuit?

    March 13, 2012 at 5:29 pm | Reply
  45. inmoti

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    March 3, 2012 at 4:11 am | Reply
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    February 24, 2012 at 2:52 am | Reply
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    February 23, 2012 at 6:58 pm | Reply
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    Watch the movie "Minority Report." The sci-fi is coming true.

    February 23, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Reply
    • ChrisL

      Yes, it is coming true - that there is a lot of fiction in sci-fi. This technology does not do any recognition as the article states. It is detecting faces and then detecting certain facial features that indicate gender only 90% of the time. There is no recognition of the person involved. In the movie Minority Report, that movie shows capturing pictures of the iris (the colored part of the eye) of many people all while they are walking and then uniquely recognizing them. That is fiction. While the iris can be used to recognize persons, try zooming in and taking a clear picture of a dime using a camera, or video camera while someone is walking by you holding it. The picture needs to be good enough that you can read the year on the dime. And then do it with a whole group of people walking by each holding a dime. It is fiction that you would get a good enough picture to recognize every iris. Maybe someday in the future the science will make it possible, but for now it is fiction.

      February 23, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Reply
      • Lubiana

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        February 29, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
    • kls817

      It seems that this technology is imperfect in identifing gender, but maybe it would be good for laughs to see who is a "girlie man" or a "handsome woman".

      February 23, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Reply
  51. ChrisL

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    February 23, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Reply
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    February 23, 2012 at 11:49 am | Reply
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      Why? Are you worried?

      February 23, 2012 at 9:00 pm | Reply
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        February 24, 2012 at 8:50 pm |
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    February 23, 2012 at 8:39 am | Reply
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      February 23, 2012 at 11:53 am | Reply
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        February 23, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
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        These stereo types are only nation wide. American women have unprecedented equality. I'm not complaining, but they need to make it clear that these are issues elsewhere in the world...

        February 24, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
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      "Just a dude" missed the entire point. Who's surprised? I'm not.

      February 24, 2012 at 12:04 am | Reply
      • trendy

        So did you. I'm not surprised.

        February 24, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
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    February 23, 2012 at 8:02 am | Reply
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    February 22, 2012 at 8:17 pm | Reply
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    February 22, 2012 at 8:13 pm | Reply
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    February 22, 2012 at 8:06 pm | Reply
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  64. Rob

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  65. macphile

    So what they're saying is that women care more about the plight of women than men do. I guess that's not a surprise. I mean, it's kind of how those women ended up in a "plight" in the first place.

    February 22, 2012 at 7:37 pm | Reply
    • MashaSobaka are also informed about the statistics. They're just given a different, less complete version of the ad, and are informed thusly. Withholding one part of the advertisement from men is meant to make a statement; by showing men what it is like to be denied "basic opportunities," they're hoping to raise awareness and make men think about the problem. This doesn't really have anything to do with assuming that men won't care. It's using technology to make a very legitimate point.

      February 24, 2012 at 1:18 am | Reply
  66. Scott

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    February 22, 2012 at 7:35 pm | Reply
    • ilovetofu


      February 23, 2012 at 11:56 am | Reply
  67. Liz in Seattle

    I wish they would have said why they felt the ad needed to be presented differenty to men and women. Did they think that men just didn't have the attention span to watch the video? Did they think men wouldn't care enough to watch the whole thing? It sounds like these people don't think much of males. I can see using this type of gender recognition to choose which products get pitched to different people, though. It would have made more sense if the billboard used the information to show tampon ads to women and condom ads to men, for example. But this usage doesn't make any sense.

    February 22, 2012 at 7:16 pm | Reply
    • Ca45

      you missed the point, they were stating that men are afforded opportunities that women are denied so they denied men the opportunity to view the full video.

      February 22, 2012 at 7:35 pm | Reply
      • observer

        Here in the States, women are afforded more opportunity than men these days. It is an old concept who's time has come and gone to think women are discriminated against by class. Nothing can be perfectly equal between individuals. But men and women are equal. They may make different choices, but nobody makes them do what they do.

        February 22, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
      • kls817

        I agree with observer. Western nations have gone too far with womens rights. Nowadays, women have choices but men have responsibilities. For example, women are automaticlly awarded children in divorces and men are required to pay child support. And this billboard is just more bigotry against men.
        On the other hand, 3rd world countries greatly oppress women, which is not only unfair to the women but also promotes a more violent and overpopulated society. I find the only worthwile charities are those that promote womens rights in these countries as this will benefit all of us.

        February 23, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
    • Mondayne

      @Liz, they did say why... "Plan ...says the goal is to highlight the opportunities that are afforded to men that women miss out on." By not showing men, they're doing the opposite of what they're highlighting happens. Men don't get the reward of watching the movie, about women who don't get all sorts of things.

      February 22, 2012 at 7:35 pm | Reply
    • Donna

      To quote the article, "...the goal is to highlight the opportunities that are afforded to men that women miss out on." That means that the group that advertises this is trying to show men how it feels to be left out (or given less) of something. In other words, it wants men to experience what a large proportion of females on this planet deal with daily.

      Does that answer your question as to why they don't show men the same thing as women?

      February 22, 2012 at 7:37 pm | Reply
      • John

        Ahh good ol' fight discrimination with discrimination. Always works.

        February 23, 2012 at 10:47 am |
    • MashaSobaka

      In another article it explained that the ad tells men "this is what it feels like to be denied basic opportunities," or something to that effect. It DOES let them know why they feel the need.

      February 24, 2012 at 1:19 am | Reply
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      February 22, 2012 at 7:36 pm | Reply
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    February 22, 2012 at 7:12 pm | Reply
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    February 22, 2012 at 7:00 pm | Reply
  72. Specialplace

    This is the start of a new era for advertising...personal ads for you. Soon it WILL be like Minority Report....reading your eyes to uniquely identify you by name and what you buy to suggest things you might like. It is a retail world, and we are but slaves to images and feelings of happiness that surround an unnecessary purchase. It's tough, because while TODAY they say "oh, you have to opt in, it won't save your imagine" can't help but think that the yellow brick road clearly will one day lead to the advertising companies arguing in court that they have a right to target you person-to-person....and they will probably win. Soon Opt-in will turn into "opt-out", just like cell phone advertisements we all get in text messages now. Next the "opt-out" will be complicated to deal with, like on Facebook....Eventually, it won't even matter anymore because we'll all be so accustomed to it that we won't even care to fight it. Strange, but true...

    February 22, 2012 at 6:54 pm | Reply
    • Glen Goleburn

      Almost a year ago I released Do I Recognize You?, the first thriller novel to focus on facial recognition of retail shoppers. We're moving closer and closer to 24/7 tracking of everyone world-wide. Even 3rd world countries are adopting biometric identification and tracking.

      February 23, 2012 at 10:23 am | Reply
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  73. Gary

    who cares?? I rarely view adverts anyway. I pay fees to web sites who have no advertising options. I'd rather eat fresh dog droppings than follow or buy advertised products. I'll buy what I want when I get to the store.

    February 22, 2012 at 6:50 pm | Reply
    • Mondayne

      @Gary, yes yes, advertising is bad, you're too smart to fall for their tricks. But advertising CAN do good, it can inform you about things that are happening in this world. A protest banner is an advertisement too.

      February 22, 2012 at 7:38 pm | Reply
      • observer

        I agree, but the problem being that they seem to lie left and right about their products. And they base their lies on what they perceive our biases to be. Therefore the perpetuate bias while creating new ones. All to motivate us to do something based on their lies. Why are they not prosecuted when they blatantly lead people on with their gimmicks?

        February 22, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
  74. sgettysburg

    if the film is so vivid, men should see it too!

    February 22, 2012 at 6:48 pm | Reply
  75. me

    I'll only say seven words: Idiots! Okay, maybe thirteen: Get a life!

    February 22, 2012 at 6:41 pm | Reply
  76. Billy Thugwrench

    I hope they all get vandalized.

    February 22, 2012 at 6:31 pm | Reply
  77. CriticalThinkingRequired

    I find it amazing how many people here apparently do not know the meaning of the word "opt" or the expression "opt-in." No wonder the world is in such an intolerable mess. I do not purport that these individuals fail to read the entire article before commenting; I simply believe this is a profound statement and proof of how dumb/stupid the average reader of simple English has become in the last 25 years. Very sad indeed.... *sarcasm duly noted* We have nothing to fear but stupidity itself....

    February 22, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Reply
    • BlueWolf

      Thought processes have grown shallow in recent years/decades. Too much "multi-tasking". Blame the www.
      Blame cheap mobile devices. Blame yourselves.

      February 22, 2012 at 6:28 pm | Reply
      • Josh

        Speak for yourself. Yours is the only thought process you're capable of monitoring. And don't you see some irony in using the internet to blame the internet for perceived decline in thought processes (whatever that means).

        February 22, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
    • observer

      Opt in today, but tomorrow the world.

      February 22, 2012 at 8:02 pm | Reply
  78. M.E.

    Well, if we're gonna get all Minority Report up in here, when do I get the midair interactive computer screens and more importantly, those wicked looking three finger gloves required to use it?!

    February 22, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Reply
    • BlueWolf

      As soon as they find 3 adepts

      February 22, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Reply
    • johnson

      Already exists. Watch this.

      February 22, 2012 at 9:10 pm | Reply
  79. Tom

    It's annoyingly patronizing.

    Next, it'll detect your skin colour. "Black male detected - play KFC ad" and so on. It'll take stereotypical marketing to a new level.

    February 22, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Reply
    • Chris

      Nice Tom, don't hold back your feelings on this.

      February 22, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Reply
    • jameswestad

      or When white male detected – play Racist ad featuring you yourself in KKK outfit !

      February 22, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Reply
    • BlueWolf

      Age discrimination: target gray-haired men for Grecian Formula
      Fat discrimination: target for Jenny Craig ads
      Style discrimination: target hemlines
      you get the idea.

      February 22, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Reply
    • Josh

      Yay, capitlalism.

      February 22, 2012 at 7:01 pm | Reply
      • Josh

        Yay, capitalism.

        February 22, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
    • msadr

      Tom, marketing professionals design advertisements to work on their target audience. They study what works on different types of people. It's their job and many of them get paid a LOT of money for that expertise. If they did design a KFC ad for people of color, it would be because they have statistics proving that people of color are more likely to buy KFC. In this case, they designed a shorter, less emotional ad for the men. Sometimes the stereotype is the truth. Either get over it, or try to rise above.

      February 22, 2012 at 8:15 pm | Reply
    • ChrisL

      So, you mean just like Amazon does today. Every search I do, no matter how specific, also includes a whole list of other products that Amazon chooses to market to me based on my purchase history, statistics they've collected on me, maybe links I've allowed them to have to my Facebook account and pictures of me there, etc..
      To be honest, I don't have a problem with that as long as everyone else doesn't know that information. I'm wondering how advertisements like this can avoid embarrasing the person standing there? How exactly does opt-in or opt-out work when others can see what is being shown to you over your shoulder?

      February 23, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Reply
  80. jameswestad

    What about transgender people like model Andrej Pejic which advert does he /she get to see ?
    Both of them or does the computer say " Error ...unable to determine gender "?

    February 22, 2012 at 3:11 pm | Reply
    • Chris

      They are denied the opportunity to learn about the oppression of women.

      February 22, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Reply
    • DB

      The detection is only 90% accurate as noted in the article, so a transgender person would be assigned to whichever gender the program detects them to be and the applicable add would be played.

      February 22, 2012 at 7:06 pm | Reply
  81. engineer long time

    Companies or individuals should not be allowed to take pictures of people without their written consent. No if and or but about it !!!...... This is a violation! Should not be tollerated!

    February 22, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Reply
    • w2hatr

      They do it all the time, as long as the video is not saved its ok

      February 22, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Reply
    • stephen

      Re-read the article – it does not save your image. Furthermore, using an ATM, going into a bank, or entering a court house creates a digital image of the patron. Get over yourself.

      February 22, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Reply
    • Verbatim

      Come on... read the actual article man, it says in plain English that they don't use or store any of the information and you have to opt to use it in the first place which means even if they were using or saving the information you would still have to agree to it before they could do it... jeez...

      February 22, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Reply
    • Chris

      You realize you are not required to stand in front of the camera correct? How is this different from being recorded when you go shopping? Or do only shop in placed that do not have surveillance cameras? I bet you also object to automatic doors that detect your presence.

      February 22, 2012 at 4:33 pm | Reply
      • observer

        This is not just a picture. It's an active response mechanism applying bias to determine what you should see.

        February 22, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
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    • BlueWolf

      Sorry, elt. Photographs for non-commercial purposes, e.g. YOUR picture in the ad, are allowed for those in a public places. This has always been the case.

      February 22, 2012 at 6:16 pm | Reply
    • M.E.

      Why do you care? Think of how many times you're seen on in-store CCTV systems or how many time you're appeared in the background of somebody's vacation pics. Methink thou doth be a tad paranoid.

      February 22, 2012 at 6:26 pm | Reply
  82. Don't Forget Target

    This reminds me of Target using progressive advertising techniques to notify a teenager that she was pregant before she knew. It outraged the father, who complained to target before he knew what was going on. He apologized a couple of weeks later, when he found out the truth.

    February 22, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Reply
    • jameswestad

      yea you read this online yesterday hey ? i did too but funny youre quoting this thin today

      February 22, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Reply
    • Chris

      Maybe one day this can be used to identify people in public who are fathers that left women pregnant.

      February 22, 2012 at 4:35 pm | Reply
  83. engineer short time

    uuhh nope

    February 22, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Reply
  84. engineer long time

    This technology is pure trash and should be banned. This is an example of modern technology being used in the sleaziest most disgusting ways possible. I will refuse to support any product or cause that is advertized using this type of "big brother" technology. TV screens in stores with advertizements prompt me on which products NOT TO BUY. Why? Because it is interrupting me, adding noise pollution and visual obstructions to an already crowded and noise polluted environment. I ask everybody to do the same or we will no longer be able to see the world around us. Every way you turn will just be another obstruction wanting you to give up your money. Now they can profile you when you walk by.

    February 22, 2012 at 2:16 pm | Reply
    • Steven Jones

      Wow. Cool your jets Bro.

      February 22, 2012 at 2:24 pm | Reply
    • I Engineer

      Read the article. It doesn't work unless you OPT IN!

      February 22, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Reply
    • Chris

      You are absolutely right! We should ignore women who are denied opportunities in other countries because of the technology they used to raise awareness. Or, you can just cut your peter off and then go watch the movie. In the meantime, find something with substance to complain about.

      February 22, 2012 at 4:37 pm | Reply
    • BlueWolf

      Move to Montana, then. Ted's cabin is vacant.

      February 22, 2012 at 6:19 pm | Reply
    • lroy

      People, I hear you and agree with just about all of you. It's an invasion of privacy and so forth.'s in London England...thousands of miles away. It's not here (yet). No more squawking until it happens HERE in America! Thank you.

      February 22, 2012 at 6:35 pm | Reply
  85. Rob

    Hope he turns out to be a boy. Let's not forget the Teletubbies scandal.

    February 22, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Reply
  86. Rob

    I feel bad for the innocent fellow that is mistakenly targeted as a woman while thugs stand around waiting to harass or assault the poor guy. Already on search engines I've been wrongly identified in categories that could result in hate crimes. I have no problem with someone innocently misunderstanding who I am, but it does make me feel vulnerable to kooks out there that want a target for their bigotry. Or the Nazis.

    February 22, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Reply
    • Rob

      Furthermore, these 'target' markets are becoming cirucular. It's really not good to tell us only of things that might appeal to us at that particular time in life. We must be exposed to new things and new ideas in order to evolve.

      February 22, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Reply
    • lroy

      A good reason why males should be males and females should be females. No gays, lesbians, transgender, no confusion. It was bad enough guys had longer hair than us females in the 60s.

      February 22, 2012 at 6:39 pm | Reply
      • Rob

        Thanks, you've proven my point.

        February 22, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
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  87. James Observes

    Funny how they discriminate to "get across... a message of discrimination." Good concept, just thought the ad of discrimination was funny for the first run.

    February 22, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Reply
    • Rob

      Exactly, the whole idea of 'targeting' is discriminatory in itself. It feeds into a more narrow view of the world which leads to even more discrimination. It justifies the sense that what we believe is the majority.

      February 22, 2012 at 1:49 pm | Reply
      • Steven Jones

        Targeting is discrimination? If a man walks up you show mens ads, sports, cars, guns. If a woman shows up you show, perfume, clothes, pretty stuff. Thats just smart business.

        1984 isn't real....

        February 22, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
      • Rob

        Steven – I'm not talking about some guy that sees me on the street and personally wants to engage in a conversation or show me something I may be interested in or that we may share an interest in. That is human interaction. When a highly paid ad agency uses aggregated data to make assumptions about people, then they use those assumptions to 'target' advertising, Then yes. That is discrimination.

        February 22, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
      • Chris

        So its ok when another person does it, but not ok when a highly paid marketing agency does it. What if it was a poorly paid marketing agency startup, does that make it any better. What about highly compensated people who work for a marketing company who happen to be on the street and want to engage in conversation. You know, I work with a black guy, let me check with him and see if it is ok if I discriminate against him in casual conversation as long as a highly paid ad agency does not use his race as a factor.

        February 22, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
      • Rob

        Chris – No, that is not what I'm saying at all. To be able to 'target' advertisers must aggregate data, then spit it back into biased categories. They make assumptions. Bad assumptions that do nothing but create and perpetuate myths. They make too many mistakes and assumptions every step of the way from data collection to data reporting through interpretation. They they apply their own biases, or what they perceive ours to be, when they produce media that they use for ads. Furthermore, the reason it's acceptable for a person to address me using their own judgement is because they are not using aggregated data, they approach me because they think there's a sale in it based on their own judgement. Then I also have the ability to use my judgement whether and how I choose to respond. With an Ad Campaign, we cannot respond and we cannot even see who the advertisers are! It's a one way street with no feedback loop. So you see, my complaint is that 'argeting' is biased based on biased media from biased agencies using biased interpretation of biased reports written off biased data and biased data collection practices.

        February 22, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
  88. Eric

    I'm trying to figure out what kind of person willingly opts in to watching an advertisement...

    February 22, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Reply
    • stephen

      Someone waiting for a bus.

      February 22, 2012 at 3:26 pm | Reply
  89. Lila

    Creepy but at least people have the choice to opt in and there are privacy laws in Europe so it doesn't seem that bad. However, if this was the US without our privacy protections, companies would be claiming that in public areas we have no right to privacy and scan our face without our permission. Then gather our information from the bus ticket we buy to sell. In small print it would say we waive our rights to privacy by buying the ticket we agree to the terms and if we don't like it walk don't use their services. Great ideas never work here in the US because companies try to scam and bully people into giving over their data.

    February 22, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Reply
  90. A

    Very neat.

    February 22, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Reply
  91. Philip from MD

    I wonder how much this set-up cost. It seems like the money could have been spent more wisely. And the fact that they don't even know how many people have viewed it is ridiculous. How can you measure the effectiveness of the campaign?

    February 22, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Reply
    • Chris

      Right, the money could have been used to actually help out women.

      February 22, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Reply
      • lroy

        Agreed. Have a nice trip.

        February 22, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
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        March 19, 2012 at 9:46 pm |
    • ChrisL

      Here's one for the conspiracy theorists. What if the effectiveness of the campaign is purely to use a human rights issue to get people to feel better about this new technology? Then, they can remotely update the advertisements to anything else they want as there is more comfort with it?

      Also, who says they don't know how many people have used it? The article says they are not collecting any data on the people, but I don't think it says that it isn't compiling internal statistics on use.

      February 23, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Reply
  92. Pete

    Somebody put a picture of the Muppet Gonzo in front of it and see which video comes out.

    February 22, 2012 at 11:58 am | Reply
    • Rob

      Hope he turns out to be a boy. Let's not forget the Teletubbies scandal.

      February 22, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Reply
    • Chris

      Maybe it will display a Trojon ad instead

      February 22, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Reply

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