«What are those mini cameras doing in that advertising column!», a Twitter user asked today. In a response, Dutch Railways (NS) said that advertisers use the cameras to assess whether passengers look at advertising and for how long.
A spokesperson of Exterion, the owner of the advertising columns, told Dutch broadcaster NOS that as many as 35 such cameras are already observing passengers at Amsterdam Central Station. Reportedly, the cameras can determine the gender of people and estimate their age. In the future, facial recognition and emotion detection may be added, but that hasn’t been decided yet.
Exterion assures that images will never be stored, but doesn’t make that claim about (personal) data gleaned from the images. They told another broadcaster, RTLZ, the cameras only register «‘ones and zeros’, for example whether someone is male or female, so no sensitive data from a privacy perspective». Such a statement may not be the best way to convince people you take privacy seriously.
A spokesperson of the Dutch Privacy Authority told NOS that they will investigate the matter, but «in general, cameras in public spaces may not be used for advertising purposes». The party leader of the Green Party in Amsterdam, Rutger Groot Wassink, has called for direct action: «Who will join me tomorrow in taping up these bloody things».
UPDATE 11 September 2017 - According to media reports, Exterion has announced it will temporarily turn off the 35 cameras in advertising columns at Amsterdam Central Station, because of «the commotion» they caused. They ascribe the commotion to insufficient communication, which suggests they see nothing wrong in the cameras as such and may turn them back on in the future. Members of Parliament have asked questions about the cameras (SP, D66).